Are you guilty of “irregular” sleep patterns — having no regular bedtime and wakeup schedule, or getting varying amounts of sleep each night? For many, it can be an all-too-easy habit to slip into — but although perhaps not common knowledge, the potential negative effects of irregular sleep are significant. One new study proved just how great this concern can be, linking irregular sleep in older adults to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
How Irregular Sleep & CVD May Be Connected
This study observed 1,992 participants, ages 45-84, who were free of CVD. The participants were followed for approximately five years (from 2010-2016). Their sleep was assessed through devices attached to their wrists that tracked their sleep and wake activity.
During the five-year period, 111 participants experienced CVD events, including heart attack and stroke, or died from a CVD-related cause. The researchers found that participants with the most irregular sleep duration or timing were more than twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those with more regular sleep patterns. Even after adjusting for known cardiovascular risk factors and other sleep variables like obstructive sleep apnea and average sleep duration, the link was still there. The researchers concluded that irregular sleep duration and timing may be novel risk factors for CVD, independent of already-known CVD risk factors and sleep quantity and/or quality.
The reasons behind CVD and sleep irregularity are still unknown, but the researchers hypothesized that harmful disturbances to the body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock, may be to blame. The National Institutes of Health noted that the same researchers found irregular sleep to be linked to harmful metabolic changes associated with obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, so it’s likely that similar processes might also play into a person’s risk of developing CVD.
How Sleep Apnea Can Increase CVD Risk
People with sleep apnea experience irregular sleep on a nightly basis due to the interruptions their condition causes as they are struggling to breathe effectively during sleep. In fact, people with obstructive sleep apnea not only have an increased risk of developing CVD but also have worse outcomes related to CVD, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The pauses in breathing, or apneas, associated with sleep apnea are not only detrimental to sleep quality, but they are also extremely stressful on the body, particularly the cardiovascular system. When oxygen flow is cut off, the mind and body panics, which forces the heart into overdrive to pump the limited amount of oxygenated blood throughout the body. This creates a spike in blood pressure that can last for several hours even after a person is breathing normally or is completely awake. Perpetually high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the top risk factors for CVD.
Sleep apnea sufferers should be aware of the risks associated with their condition and CVD. And, those that snore regularly, are often fatigued, wake up with a gasping or choking sound, or display any other sleep apnea symptoms should take heed of these risks as well and seek diagnosis and treatment.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, if you believe you are suffering from sleep apnea, treatment is available, and it can reduce your sleep apnea symptoms as well as cardiovascular concerns. An oral appliance, a non-CPAP treatment for sleep apnea that’s comfortable and effective, is one treatment option. In fact, oral appliances and CPAP are equally effective in reducing the risk of fatal cardiovascular events in patients with severe OSA. Dr. Jeff Rodgers is a sleep medicine expert that has been helping patients improve their sleep and protect their health for over 20 years in the Atlanta area, and he’s currently accepting virtual as well as in-person appointments. To get started on the road to better sleep and better health, contact us today.