Treating Sleep Apnea is good for your Heart

Published on October 26, 2022

8 mins

Have you been diagnosed with high blood pressure?

May is Hypertension month, so we are raising awareness about the relationship between your heart health and sleep. Medical research shows that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is strongly linked to the development of systemic hypertension (high blood pressure). If left untreated, sleep apnea may lead to heart disease.

People with sleep apnea stop breathing (apnea) while sleeping due to the partial collapse of their upper airway, which leads to fragmented sleep and daytime sleepiness. You may be at risk for sleep apnea if you are showing the following signs: snoring, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, depression, and more

Did you know that over 25% of the Canadian population has been reported to have signs and risk factors associated with sleep apnea?

The health risks of untreated sleep apnea reach far beyond daytime exhaustion. Common risks caused by untreated sleep apnea include hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Medical research shows that sleep apnea can increase the risk of heart failure by 140%. It is important to get tested early for OSA and seek treatment to prevent the development of chronic conditions. Take our sleep quiz to find out if you are at risk of sleep apnea and speak to your family doctor. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and may refer you to take a sleep test at home or in-clinic, based on where you live in Canada.

The Effect of Sleep on your Blood Pressure

Sleep has a direct effect on your heart rate and blood pressure. Most healthy individuals have a significant drop (10-20%) in blood pressure while sleeping, which is called blood pressure dipping. During the non-REM phase of sleep, which accounts for 80% of your total sleep time, there is a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate. The reduction in blood pressure helps with the recovery and repair of the heart muscle. This is a normal phenomenon as we are in a resting phase while sleeping.

People with sleep apnea experience less than 10% of drop in blood pressure, or ‘nondipping of blood pressure’, which increases their risk of heart problems. When breathing stops due to sleep apnea, people can experience sudden drops in their blood oxygen levels – this can lead to high blood pressure and strain on the heart over time. Many people with OSA experience an elevation of their blood pressure when they wake up in the morning that can affect their heart. Constant nightly awakenings can also cause a hormonal system imbalance, which can eventually lead to hypertension. 

A research study was conducted on 2677 Canadian adults to understand the link between sleep apnea and high blood pressure. The study participants underwent sleep testing at a sleep clinic. The results showed a strong link between the severity of obstructive sleep apnea (mild, medium, severe) and high blood pressure. Every apnea event (when a person stops breathing) was associated with a 1% increased risk of hypertension. People with moderate to severe OSA had over 45% chance of having high blood pressure. It is important to understand the risks of delaying sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment on your heart. Similarly, if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, speak to your doctor about sleep apnea as it could be an underlying cause, if you are showing symptoms.

Reducing Risk through CPAP Therapy

Research shows that when you successfully treat sleep apnea using CPAP therapy, people no longer experience nighttime drops in blood oxygen levels – this means lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. However, it is important to keep in mind that results from the research study vary based on the participants’ age, OSA severity, sleepiness, and comorbidities (risk factors for OSA).

It is important to regularly use your CPAP to have the desired effects on your blood pressure. People that used their CPAP for over 5 hours every night showed the greatest reduction in their blood pressure. Even a slight improvement in your blood pressure can significantly reduce events relating to heart failure and disease. If you want to improve your therapy success and monitor how well you are sleeping, you can use the sleep apnea therapy app associated with your device. Please contact us with questions about your therapy, our clinicians are here to support you.

Did you know?

CPAP therapy has also shown to be beneficial for people with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a common type of irregular heartbeat often associated with palpitations, chest pain, fainting and/or congestive heart failure. Studies show that when sleep apnea is properly treated, people with atrial fibrillation have only a 40% chance of coming back for further atrial fibrillation treatment. In contrast, people who don’t treat their sleep apnea have an 80% chance of coming back for further treatment for their atrial fibrillation.

CPAP therapy can help improve your blood pressure levels and also help reduce the risk of heart disease caused by sleep apnea. The key is to identify the symptoms early and seek treatment. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, please take the sleep quiz and speak to your doctor. 

Our skilled sleep clinicians will assist with your therapy requirements, please contact us at any of our locations across Canada.