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New research connects insomnia and heart failure

We were pleased to see a report on NBCNews.com about the latest research on how insomnia harms your heart — not because we’re glad there’s a connection between sleep trouble and heart health, but because the more widely-read this information is, the more people we hope will take it seriously!

The least you should know:

  • The learning comes from a new, multi-year study published in the European Heart Journal, which finds a substantial link between insomnia and heart failure.
  • The indicators monitored were ones we talk to patients about often: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and waking up still feeling fatigued.
  • Research found a rise in the incidence of heart failure among participants who experienced just one of those symptoms “occasionally” or “often” — 5% and 14%, respectively; the more disturbing connection was found among those who experienced all three symptoms frequently: among these participants, heart failure rates more than tripled.

Why is insomnia linked to an increased risk of heart failure?

The study’s co-author, Lars Laugsand, PhD, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology correctly explains that “Insomnia is a disorder marked by hyperarousal.” That means insomnia increases the activity in the system in the body that adjusts for stressors, e.g., sweating to reduce your body temperature, and the familiar “fight or flight” response to danger (your sympathetic nervous system); your body’s response is to release stress hormones. “This hormonal surge appears to boost blood pressure, which explains why periods of insomnia can make you feel like your heart is pounding or your body is overheating. These stress hormones also increase inflammation levels and spur the release of catecholamines, a group of compounds that previous research has tied to an increased risk of heart disease…”

We all know that the chronic affects of stress are associated with a variety of health issues; insomnia produces its own stressful effects. So if you are having trouble sleeping, tell your doctor, or come see our sleep specialists trained in properly diagnosing and treating the 80+ different sleep disorders. Let’s make sure insomnia (or other sleep problems) don’t harm your heart!

Don’t let sleep deprivation affect your quality of life

Sleep deprivation is simply a condition in which you’re not getting as much sleep as your body needs.  Despite common health recommendations that tell you to get eight hours of sleep a night, the truth is that your body may have different needs, and the amount of sleep you need may change depending on your current health and life situation; you may need just five hours, or even ten!

Sometimes we think we just have to push through—whether it’s from demands of work, school and family, short-term stressors, grief…or a youthful urge to over-party. And in the short-term you can often make the adjustment. But after a few days, sleep deprivation is something you need to take seriously. Why is it so important to make sure that you’re getting enough rest?

Through study after study, the evidence is growing that shows how much our minds (in concentration, memory and alertness), as well as bodies (through increased risks of heart attack, stroke and obesity, to name just a few), suffer if we’re not getting enough sleep.

We’ve had many patients tell us post-treatment that they didn’t realize just how “out of it” they were every day until AFTER they started getting enough sleep. When you’re wide awake and able to think clearly, it’s easier to listen and be fully engaged with people and events around you; you can process information and more rapidly respond to demands for quick change (as when you’re driving a car, or playing a sport).

Sleep deprivation builds up over time, wearing away at your quality of life; the right amount of good quality sleep helped our patients really live again, and it may be able to help you, too.
If you’re wondering if lack of sleep may be a problem for you, there are signs you can look for. Some are most easily noticed by a sleeping partner: chronic snoring and repeatedly having long pauses in breathing while asleep, to name the two most common. But here’s one you can spot on your own:

Do you regularly head straight to bed at night and fall asleep within 5 minutes of your head touching the pillow, or nod off while reading or watching television in the evening? You may need to get more sleep. Try adjusting your schedule to add in an extra 30-60 minutes of sleep. If that does the trick, then you’ll know just how much sleep you need at this time in your life.

If you find that you’re still nodding off, you might want to consider discussing your situation with a sleep specialist. There are over 85 sleep disorders recognized today, and physicians who specialize in sleep disorders have the training and experience to spot them. They also have more options—including many non-pharmaceutical ones—for treatment of sleep disorders than ever before. So please, take sleep deprivation seriously; get good rest, and if you’re still having trouble, get help.

Children and Sleep

For parents, children and sleep can often seem mutually exclusive; late nights with infants and young children are the norm for parents–but what about for the children? We may spot the signs of sleepless nights on our own ability to concentrate, be patient, and generally function at our best, but children can also suffer if they don’t get enough sleep.

Most parents are aware that temper tantrums are almost inevitable in overtired kids, and this is certainly one common symptom, but your child may experience other problems if they get too little good-quality sleep. Lack of sleep has lead to misdiagnoses of ADHD and hyperactivity issues, as well as problems of cognitive function (e.g., attention, memory, problem-solving), and has even been linked to childhood obesity.

How much sleep do children need at different times of their lives? What aspects of their lives can be affected by the amount of sleep they get? And how can you help your child get the appropriate amount of sleep? Brent Brandow, director of operations at Parkway SleepHealth Centers, discusses these questions in the podcast below.

In order for children to sustain the amount of energy that is necessary at their age, we have to start with making sure they are receiving adequate sleep each night,” said Brandow. “Parents need to know the different distractions that can throw off a child’s sleep pattern and ways they can help their child receive sufficient sleep each night.

You can help your kids get the rest they need by reinforcing a daily bedtime routine and minimizing their before-bedtime exposure to electronics and caffeine. If you have concerns about your child’s sleeping, call us to discuss whether a medical evaluation from one of our sleep medicine physicians will be beneficial. Our physicians have the experience necessary to assess your child’s symptoms, provide a more comprehensive diagnosis, and then partner with your child’s pediatrician to make sure the treatment plan fits his or her overall health needs. And rest assured, there are many non-pharmaceutical options available.

Click to listen to the podcast:

Children and Sleep interview with Brent Brandow

Always tired? It might be a sleep disorder

If you’ve been feeling that you’re always tired, snoring all the time, or if your sleeping partner notices your snoring is accompanied by pauses when your breathing stops, those are signs you should have a check up from a medical specialist board certified in sleep medicine. That’s because there are over 80 different sleep disorders, and getting the right diagnosis is critical to getting the right treatment!

For a quick overview of how sleep disorders are diagnosed, specific signs and symptoms of sleep disorders, how someone can distinguish between a few bad nights of sleep and an actual sleep disorder, and the most effective ways that sleep disorders can be treated, listen to our short podcast.

“There are a variety of sleep disorders that exist but many people are not aware of how to properly address them,” says Brent Brandow, director of operations for Parkway SleepHealth Centers, who is interviewed on the podcast. “Since sleep is one of the most important body processes and a way to ensure improved health, we want to help people achieve better sleep. One way we are doing this with our clients is by helping them distinguish between sleep disorders and poor sleep habits and providing answers for their sleep-related questions.”

Often we get used to feeling tired, attributing the sleepiness or fuzzy  thinking to stress, kids, work or other challenges — and we may be right. But if your daytime sleepiness never seems to really go away, and you find yourself relying more and more on caffeine and catnaps to make it through your day, that’s most likely NOT something you have to suffer through. And there are many options besides turning to medication. A sleep physician who focuses on this complex field every day can help uncover what’s at the heart of your sleep problems, and help you get the rest you need. So if you’re in the Triangle NC area, give us a call. You don’t have to be always tired — trust us!

What type of doctor specializes in sleep disorders?

Doctors that specialize in sleep disorders (insomnia, sleep apnea, etc) and their treatment are “Board Certified” in sleep medicine. They often have other, related, medical specialties as well, including pulmonology (specializing in the respiratory tract), otolaryngology (ENT or Ear, Nose, Throat concerns), cardiology (heart-related conditions) or neurology (disorders of the nervous system). The American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM) is the medical board that provides certification credentials for sleep doctors.

Good quality sleep is essential to your good health! If you are having consistent, unexplained difficulty falling or staying asleep, are snoring heavily, or are just not waking up feeling rested, these are signs that it is time for a medical exam by a sleep doctor. Poor sleep quality has been associated with depression, weight gain, anxiety and other issues.

Sleep disorders may be caused by physical, environmental and/or emotional factors. Insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep), sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are among the more common problems patients can experience, but certainly not the only ones. As with all medical conditions, accurate diagnosis is the key to prompt, effective treatment. Expect a sleep doctor to discuss your situation, provide a medical exam and, if appropriate, prescribe testing—potentially even a sleep study, which is often the most efficient path to diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes a medication (a.k.a. a “sleeping pill”) is the right solution, but not always; fortunately there are many treatments available to patients today—including many non-medication options.

If your insurance permits you to see a specialist without a referral, visit a sleep doctor; they will be best equipped to diagnose your condition, and can provide referrals to other medical professionals if needed.

At Parkway SleepHealth Centers in Cary NC, our medical team members are Board Certified in sleep medicine. That means that they are well-versed in the many factors that can be causing chronic sleep difficulties in our patients. We are also accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a rigorous process that requires many steps to ensure a top level of expertise and professionalism, including having an ABSM-certified Medical Director. For more information about sleep medicine and sleep doctors that specialize in these disorders, visit the ABSM website, or the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.