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If you know you snore, wake up multiple times a night, or never feel refreshed in the morning, it might be time to do a sleep study. Believe it or not, sleep apnea is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and people go years before getting it diagnosed. Here is what you need to know about sleep apnea and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. 

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing multiple times a night, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness and a decreased quality of life. These nighttime arousals also set them up for many chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and many forms of cardiovascular disease: [1][2][3] 

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • Cholesterol imbalance 
  • Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels) 
  • Cardiac arrhythmias 
  • Atrial fibrillation 
  • Myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) 
  • Stroke 
  • Coronary artery disease 
  • Coronary heart disease 
  • Heart Failure 

As we outlined in this article, there are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common, but all three types can disrupt airflow and lead to many of the same health problems. 

Sleep apnea develops from a variety of contributing factors, including obesity (especially a BMI over 30), poor facial development, tongue ties, allergies, and anything that leads to chronic inflammation. We at The Wellness Way refer to all these factors as the 3 T’s: Traumas, toxins, and thoughts 

How Sleep Apnea Increases Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Sleep apnea can increase cardiovascular risk in several ways, as it affects how well the body deals with traumas, toxins, and thoughts. Some of the 3 T’s that led to sleep apnea can also independently lead to cardiovascular disease. Here are some of the mechanisms by which sleep apnea can set you up for heart disease and stroke: 

1 – Intermittent Low Oxygen Can Lead to High Blood Pressure

During sleep apnea episodes, pauses in breathing can lead to drops in blood oxygen levels. This condition is known as intermittent hypoxia. Repeated episodes of low oxygen stress the cardiovascular system, potentially causing blood vessels to constrict and leading to increased blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. [4] 

2 – Increased Sympathetic Activity (Chronic Fight-or-Flight)

Sleep apnea can also increase sympathetic nervous system activity, often called the “fight or flight” response. This heightened activity releases stress hormones like adrenaline, which can elevate heart rate and blood pressure. This increased sympathetic tone can strain the heart and blood vessels over time, increasing the risk of heart-related issues. [5] 

3 – Increased Inflammation Contributing to Atherosclerosis

Sleep apnea is associated with inflammation and oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. In this condition, plaques build up inside arteries, narrowing them and potentially leading to heart attacks or strokes. [6][7] 

4 – Endothelial Dysfunction Leading to Low Nitric Oxide

Sleep apnea can impair the function of the endothelium, which is the inner lining of blood vessels. [8] Endothelial dysfunction can lead to reduced production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps blood vessels relax and dilate, promoting healthy blood flow. [9] When blood vessels don’t function properly, it can lead to an increased cardiovascular risk.  

5 – Sleep Apnea May Cause Arrhythmias

Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias. These abnormal heart rhythms can lead to more serious cardiovascular events, like stroke or heart failure. [10] 

6 – Sleep Disordered Breathing is Linked to Metabolic Imbalances

Sleep apnea is linked to metabolic disturbances, insulin resistance, and obesity. These factors can also contribute to poor heart health. [11] 

7 – Increased Stress Throughout the Body

The combination of disrupted sleep and physiological stress caused by sleep apnea can affect the body systemically. Chronic sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality are predictors of various health issues, including increased cardiovascular problems. [12] 

The Wellness Way Can Help

The cardiovascular consequences of untreated sleep apnea are dire. Don’t wait for a heart attack to discover you’re at high risk for heart disease. Instead, get the “gold standard” sleep study, an overnight polysomnography, as soon as possible. Depending on sleep apnea severity, a healthcare provider may recommend a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. CPAP therapy can prevent the upper airway from collapsing at night, alleviating airway obstruction and allowing more restful sleep. However, there’s usually more than one contributing factor to sleep apnea. That’s where we come in. 

Don’t stop with a sleep study and a CPAP. Other traumas, toxins, and thoughts can contribute to chronic inflammation, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular problems. Spinal misalignments, food allergies, liver toxicity, and emotional stress can all contribute to sleep apnea, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. To get comprehensive testing and guidance for restful sleep, contact a Wellness Way Clinic today.  

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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