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.

Even minor sleep problems can raise a woman’s BP

Here we go again. Even the smallest sleep disturbance can increase a woman’s risk of high blood pressure. This isn’t good. Women who slept for the recommended duration also experienced this increase. The key is eliminating any sleep disturbances altogether.

We know that insufficient sleep increases blood pressure, which leads to a risk for heart-related conditions. However, researchers recently completed a study that assessed whether or not less serious sleep issues could also cause measurable cardiovascular effects. What they found was, yes, it can.

Women are affected the most

About one-third of people in the U.S. do not get enough sleep with women affected more than men. Women are often more likely to be carers for children and elderly relatives, which accounts for their lack of sleep. They can also experience shifts in hormones both monthly and across their lifespan.

Because of this, researchers looked to focus on women in this new study. What they found was particularly worrisome because sleep deprivation and milder sleep problems may have a disproportionate effect on cardiovascular health in women.

As dental sleep medicine specialists, we need to help care for not only all our patients, but women in particular due to their increased chances of a lack of consistent sleep.