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7 Sleep Issues Associated with Heart Disease and 7 Ways to Combat Them

K. Grossman

If you suffer from heart problems such as congestive heart failure, you may find yourself ensnared in a vicious cycle of fatigue. If your heart is not able to adequately pump the oxygen-rich blood needed to keep you strong and alert, you may find yourself becoming drowsy. Additionally, the effects of heart failure and worry over health issues may leave you unable to get proper rest. The following are several sleep issues linked to heart disease. These are followed by tips to help you get the rest that will help keep your ticker, and your body, as strong as possible.

14. Obstructive Sleep Apnea


There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a blockage of the airway that leads to disrupted breathing while sleeping. This can occur when your throat muscles relax in sleep to such an extent that they block or greatly narrow your airway. Snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. In some cases, those with sleep apnea may choke, gasp for breath, and thus awaken themselves in the night. According to a study in the Texas Heart Institute Journal, obstructive sleep apnea is linked to several heart conditions. These include high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, and heart failure.

13. Central Sleep Apnea Central Sleep Apnea


Like obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea refers to occasions of interrupted breathing during sleep. However, unlike obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is not caused by a physical blockage of the airways. Instead, the brain fails to signal your body to continue breathing. Symptoms of central sleep apnea include snoring, waking in the night and finding you are short of breath, and nighttime chest pain. Central sleep apnea can be a warning sign of underlying heart failure, according to the Critical Care Clinics Journal.

12. Dyspnea, Orthopnea, and Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea


The disorders referred to by the tongue-twisting names of dyspnea, orthopnea, and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea are all breathing disorders. Characteristics of these disorders include difficulty breathing, difficulty breathing at night, or issues breathing while lying flat on the back. According to studies, orthopnea and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea may be linked to a failure of the ventricles of the heart. When the heart fails to properly pump blood, breathing can become labored or difficult.

11. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder


Disruption of sleep due to frequent movements of the legs or arms is referred to as periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). Those suffering from this disorder may not awaken when their limbs make these movements. However, they still may suffer from daytime fatigue and inadequate rest. Additionally, PLMD may be linked to cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

10. Restless Leg Syndrome


Restless leg syndrome is somewhat different from PLMD. Those who suffer from this disorder often experience an irresistible urge to move their legs even while awake or trying to fall asleep. Restless leg syndrome shares PLMD’s link to the risk of cardiovascular disease, as shown in this study in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography. Treating both underlying heart disease and the symptoms of restless leg syndrome can improve health and help provide a more restful night’s sleep.

9. Narcolepsy


Narcolepsy refers to daytime drowsiness so excessive that those afflicted may fall asleep during the day even while performing tasks. Other symptoms of narcolepsy may include hallucinations and sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis can be frightening, as individuals may be unable to speak or move while falling asleep or as they awaken. This sleep disorder may also be linked to issues the body experiences when suffering from heart failure or decreased heart function.

8. Insomnia


Insomnia refers to the inability to fall asleep within a reasonable amount of time or to remain asleep for the duration of the night. This condition is also a well-known effect of cardiac disease or chronic heart failure. If the heart is unable to provide the brain with adequate amounts of oxygen-rich blood, sleep may be affected. In addition to the link between heart failure and insomnia, depression is an additional side effect of sleep deprivation.

7. Consider a Sleep Apnea Screening


If you suffer from daytime sleepiness, you may want to consider a sleep apnea screening. Sleep apnea screening may be especially helpful if you find your snoring wakes you or your bed partner at night. Your doctor can use sleep tests to indicate periods of sleep in which you stop breathing. Sleep studies allow your doctor to monitor your brain waves, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate while you sleep. If obstructive sleep apnea occurs, your doctor may prescribe a CPAP machine to help you maintain easier breathing during sleep.

6. Sleep on Your Side, Not on Your Back


Sleeping flat on your back allows your throat muscles to relax and block your airway, thus depriving your body of necessary oxygen. Additionally, those who suffer from orthopnea find breathing more difficult when lying flat on their backs. Sleeping on your side with your head elevated can fight against the pull of gravity on the muscles of your throat. This may allow for an open airway and easier breathing.

5. Raise the Head of Your Bed


Sometimes elevating your head through the use of an extra pillow is enough to keep you breathing easier. In extreme cases of sleep apnea, you may want to invest in an adjustable bed that allows you to sleep on a slight incline. Sleeping in this position can also ease sleep disorders caused by congestion of the heart or lungs. Sometimes, investing in an adjustable bed is not an option. If so, you may want to look for a mattress wedge or mattress elevator for your current bed. Some individuals find relief by placing blocks or risers under the head of their bed.

4. Keep Your Feet Elevated Feet Elevated


Congestive heart failure often causes swollen feet or ankles. In this case, you may be able to rest easier at night by keeping your feet elevated. According to Harvard Medical School, you may be able to reduce swelling and sleep better by propping your feet up on a pillow. Ask your doctor if you would benefit from a prescription for compression stockings to relieve the pressure of swollen feet and ankles.

3. Get Adequate Exercise


Providing your body with fresh air and exercise can strengthen your heart and help you sleep better at night. If you are healthy enough to engage in exercise, try to get out for a walk in the fresh air. This will help keep your heart pumping and supply you with the mind and body health-boosting benefits of endorphins. It will also help to prepare your body for a deep and restorative night’s sleep.

2. Avoid Napping During the Day


Insomnia and other nighttime sleep disorders can cause the daytime drowsiness that tempts a person to nap. If you suffer from sleep issues, try to avoid daytime napping in order to prepare your body for a full night of sleep. At times, you may find you must indulge in a nap in order to carry on the day’s activities. In these cases, try to limit your nap to the early afternoon. A post-lunch nap may be just enough to give you the necessary energy to keep going through the afternoon.

1. Refrain from Nighttime Snacking


Going to bed with a full stomach can keep you awake and prevent a restful night of sleep. Avoid eating a heavy meal or snacks that are difficult to digest right before bedtime. Plan to be finished with evening meals at least two hours before you intend to go to sleep. If you fear hunger pains will keep you awake, try a small, protein-packed snack such as a slice of turkey or a handful of nuts. Additionally, a soothing cup of chamomile tea may help ease you into a restful night’s sleep.