Sleep & the Heart

There is a direct link or correlation between sleep disorders and heart disease, although some aspects of the relationship are still unclear. There is an increased risk of sudden cardiac death just as people awake. Any time you wake up from sleep, even momentarily, your heart rate and blood pressure climb, forcing your heart to exert more energy. Professionals believe that this extra workload increases the risk of cardiac death. Research studies suggest that interrupted breathing caused by sleep disorders causes high blood pressure (hypertension) and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been proven to lead directly to high blood pressure. The repeated episodes of interrupted or shallow breathing cause a drop in oxygen, and the brain is aroused over and over again. Every time a person is awakened, the heart is forced to pump harder. The combination of continuous loss of oxygen and increased heart rate and blood pressure can eventually lead to a permanent increase in blood pressure.

Congestive Heart Failure
Sleep-related breathing disorders can be both the cause and the effect of congestive heart failure (CHF). Studies show that obstructive sleep apnea is a significant risk factor for the development of heart failure. Also, about 40 percent of the people who have CHF also have what is known as central sleep apnea (CSA), which is thought to be associated with a number of neurologic problems, as well as heart or kidney failure. This type of irregular breathing causes drops in oxygen levels and constant arousals throughout the night. The extra workload worsens the CHF, causing a vicious cycle to begin. Treatment of the CSA will improve heart function and sleep quality.

Hypertension is the leading cause of stroke and is directly linked with OSA. Strokes occur when oxygen is reduced or cut-off to the brain, which is why it is believed that OSA may directly lead to stroke. Other effects from OSA, such as excessive sleepiness, may interfere with patient recovery after a stroke.


Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in evaluating and treating sleep disorders at the following convenient locations.