Not sleeping well can strain your heart

Mary Bauer Hede: Not sleeping well can strain your heart Have you ever been told you snore loudly? Do you wake up feel
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


Mary Bauer

Hede: Not sleeping well can strain your heart

Have you ever been told you snore loudly? Do you wake up feeling like you haven't slept at all and feel tired all day? You could possibly have a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

* Excessive daytime sleepiness

* Loud snoring

* Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep

* Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath

* Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat

* Morning headache

* Difficulty staying asleep

These symptoms can occur in sleep when your throat muscles relax, and can narrow or close your airway when you breathe in, which briefly cuts off breathing. Much less commonly, sleep apnea may be caused if your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. This can cause you to awaken with shortness of breath.

With sleep apnea, snoring tends to be loudest when you are on your back and quiets when you are on your side.

Certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing sleep apnea:

* Excessive weight

* Large neck circumference

* High blood pressure

* A narrowed airway

* Being male

* Being older

* Family history of sleep apnea

* Alcohol, sedative or tranquilizer use

* Smoking

Several serious complications can occur with sleep apnea, which include:

Cardiovascular problems: Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels, which occur during sleep apnea, increase blood pressure and can strain the heart. About 50 percent of people with sleep apnea develop high blood pressure, which in turn raises their chance of stroke and heart failure. If there is underlying heart disease, the repeated episodes of low blood oxygen from the sleep apnea can lead to sudden death from a cardiac event, such as a heart attack.

Daytime fatigue: Sleep apnea makes normal, restful sleep impossible. Daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability become a problem. Difficulty concentrating, falling asleep at work and even while driving may be experienced.

Sleep-deprived partners: The loud snoring from sleep apnea can keep those around you from getting a good night's rest, and they in turn show the symptoms of sleep deprivation also.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that is interrupted with periods of silence. Also, ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you chronically fatigued, sleepy and irritable.

If your doctor suspects you have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, he or she can order a sleep study. Sleep studies are done in a sleep disorders center. First, you are seen by a sleep specialist, who makes a determination whether there is a need for further evaluation. If so, a sleep study usually involves overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep. You might also be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist to rule out any blockage in your nose or throat.

Treatment may involve making lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, for milder cases of sleep apnea. If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, other treatments, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and oral appliances are available.

With CPAP, you are fitted with a mask that fits over your nose while you sleep, and the air pressure is increased slightly, just enough to keep your upper airway passages open, preventing the apnea and snoring from occurring.

Oral appliances are designed to bring your jaw forward, which can sometimes relieve snoring and mild sleep apnea. CPAP is usually more effective, but it takes some practice to get used sleeping with the device.

So, if you find yourself "counting sheep" on a regular basis in search of that elusive "good night's sleep," you may want to give your family physician a call to be considered for a sleep study. It might just save your life.

The Sleep Disorders Center at Firelands Regional Medical Center is equipped to run any sleep study ordered by your physician.

"We are committed to educating, treating and supporting our patients, as well as helping them achieve an improved quality of life. We accomplish this by emphasizing personal, individual care and working together with the referring physician," said Trish Zakrajsek, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center. Contact Zakrajsek at 419-557-7213.