Getting enough sleep is critical to ensuring the health of your body, especially your heart. Many people don’t understand this, however, until they end up in the hospital after a heart attack or other major coronary event (MCE). By that time, the situation is critical, and sleep problems like sleep apnea have to be treated.

Now a new study shows that it’s not just sleep apnea that contributes to higher risk of recurring heart problems–it’s any form of sleep disturbance.

No Matter the Cause, Sleep Disturbance Leads to Recurring Heart Risk

Long-Term Follow-Up after Heart Problems

This study is based on the results of a large clinical trial focused on the best strategies for controlling arterial plaque following myocardial infarction (heart attack). This multinational trial recruited more than 13,000 patients who had experienced a heart attack thirty days or less before recruitment.

People were given surveys to assess their risk of sleep apnea (Berlin questionnaire, BQ) and to determine whether they did shift work. Shift work is work that happens either at times when people would normally be sleeping or has a rotating pattern of working hours that includes those times. People who do shift work experience disrupted sleep patterns.

Participants were followed for an average of 2.5 years, and were tracked for MCE. Then researchers performed statistical analysis to see which types of sleep disturbance led to increased risk of recurring heart problems.

It turns out that all types of sleep disturbance tracked in this study led to increased risk of MCE following an initial heart attack. The highest risk for subsequent MCE was experienced by people who reported getting less than six hours of sleep a night. They had a 29% higher risk of MCE after a heart attack. People whose BQ scores showed a risk of sleep apnea had a 12% higher risk of MCE, and those who did shift work had a 15% higher risk. People who had all three factors were at double the risk of MCE.

Your First Heart Attack Is a Warning

If you’ve experienced a heart attack, it’s an important warning you have to take seriously. Making lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of subsequent heart problems and help you live a longer, healthier life.

Among the changes you have to make is taking your sleep more seriously. If you’re just not getting enough sleep, maybe it’s time to start. If you’re doing shift work, maybe it’s time to request regular hours–and get support from your doctor to make the change. And you need to get your sleep apnea diagnosed and treated. After heart damage, CPAP can both help and fail you. In some cases, an oral appliance may be the best choice for  your heart.

It’s likely that the risk related to sleep apnea is actually much higher than what researchers in this study found. That’s because researchers didn’t actually diagnose people with sleep apnea–they just used BQ scores. As a screening test, BQ is designed to have a much higher false positive rate than false negative. This means that many people who didn’t have sleep apnea were still counted as having sleep apnea for the purposes of the study. If only true sleep apnea sufferers were used, the risk would have been much higher.

If you are looking to reduce your risk of heart problems, either before or after your first heart attack, we can help. Please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment with a Denver sleep dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.