How snoring can kill you

Your mom and family doctor have probably always agreed on at least one thing—getting a full night’s rest is essential to maintaining your good health, no matter what your age.

But if you toss and turn or snore, you may be causing long-term damage to your heart. In fact, according to the findings of a 2013 study, people who get less than six hours of sleep a night are at increased risk for conditions leading to heart disease and heart failure.

“There are many ways sleep disorders can affect the health of your heart,” says Dr. Raina Gupta, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “Sleep disorders can not only put added strain on your heart, night after night, but may contribute to abnormal heart rhythm and hormone levels in your body.”

According to Dr. Gupta, the most serious sleep disorder for the heart is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which breathing pauses occur during sleep—often several times an hour—due to a blocked airway. The inconsistent, often severe, breathing issues not only causes a restless night’s sleep, but can lead to daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and atrial fibrillation (heart flutter).

“Prolonged atrial fibrillation is a common cause of stroke and heart failure,” says Dr. Ajay Baddi, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute in Chicago. “With the irregular beat, the heart isn’t working as hard as it should to pump the blood from chamber to chamber. This means blood can clot in the heart and then be pumped up into the brain, causing a stroke.”

He says atrial fibrillation can cause the heart to enlarge and lead to heart attack and heart failure.

“Anyone who snores heavily, especially if it keeps your partner awake at night, should check with their physician about having a sleep study,” says Dr. Gupta. “The sooner you know whether or not you have sleep apnea and how severe it might be, the sooner you can be treated and avoid any possible long-term damage to your heart.”

Dr. Gupta says that insomnia, or a lack of sleep, also can cause issues with the normal heartbeat and have a similar effect on the heart muscle. The body is not allowed to get its restorative sleep time it needs to keep healthy.

“And poor sleep can change the hormones in your body, which affects the way fat is stored,” Dr. Gupta says. “Extra fat is stored, which can lead to an elevated risk of diabetes and heart disease.”

In addition to seeing a physician for any serious sleep issues, Dr. Gupta says there are steps to make certain you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Participate in regular physical activity, but try to avoid working out prior to bed. Exercise is important for heart health, but getting your adrenaline going too close to bedtime can keep you awake.
  • Studies show that red wine is good for the heart, but limit alcohol intake to one drink a day for women and two drinks for men. Over-consuming can interfere with sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine at least a few hours before heading to bed.
  • Develop a bedtime routine—take a warm soak in the tub, dim the lights or drink herbal tea. This will calm you and prepare you for a proper night’s rest.

“The medical evidence is very clear—there is a definite link between sleep and your heart health,” says cardiologist Dr. Baddi. “Regardless of gender, age or race, like exercise and proper nutrition, we all need sleep for a healthy heart.”