Sleep apnea is linked to atrial fibrillation

As time goes on and more research is completed, we continue to find connections with various health conditions and sleep apnea. We, as dental sleep medicine specialists (or soon to be), need to continue to advance our knowledge on these connections to better improve our patients’ health and well-being.

A recent study published in HeartRhythm looked at poor sleep quality as a major risk factor for atrial fibrillation. Researchers of this study even found a link independent of sleep apnea. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular, rapid heart rate that might cause a variety of symptoms such as heart palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath. AF can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. It also is linked with stroke, dementia, heart attack, kidney disease and even death.

Sleep apnea is a risk factor

Obstructive sleep apnea is known as a risk factor for AF. However, the mechanism remains unclear. Episodes of abnormal breathing and apnea may cause cardiopulmonary stress, induce inflammation and contribute to cardiovascular disease. OSA also results in poor quality sleep. When a person suffers from poor quality sleep, they can experience altered sleep duration, efficiency and architecture. These all link to cardiovascular diseases.

Researchers looked at four different studies to determine if poor sleep was a risk factor for AF. They found that a subset of these individuals who had undergone formal sleep studies experienced less REM sleep. This predicted future AF. Through further outreach, researchers found that sleep quality is extremely important to cardiovascular health, specifically to AF.  Sleep disruption was consistently an important risk factor. The underlying mechanisms are still unknown, but this study is a good way to think about sleep and AF.