When it comes to sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), it’s important to get to the heart of the matter. A recent American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement outlines guidelines about how SDB is linked to cardiac arrhythmia. The Insomnia and Sleep Institute is your hub for getting a diagnosis and treatment for all sleep disorders and disturbances, including SDB, but understanding the risks and implications prior to your consultation can set a good foundation.

The AHA published their report in Circulation, which included an analysis led by Cleveland Clinic experts. The statement delineates data that highlights how SDB treatment can benefit cardiac arrhythmia outcomes, thus improving patient outcomes. There have been a few studies that show how the mental stress associated with SDB informs biological effects (such as the heart). This, of course, can increase the risk of heart issues including arrhythmia. Previous uncontrolled studies have suggested that treating SDB with interventions like cardioversion reduces arrhythmia recurrence.

What Research Says About the Connection

The authors note that “Strong evidence indicates that sleep-disordered breathing can lead to severe health consequences, which can directly affect cardiac function.” Of course, the physical effects of SDB can extend beyond the heart—though that would not be the focus of the AHA. Further, “Our panel’s data synthesis is designed to increase knowledge and awareness of the existing science in this area” according to researchers. The link between sleep apnea and obesity for example, along with atrial fibrillation, has played a key role in treating atrial fibrillation. There are a myriad of co-morbidities with sleep disorders such as SDB, and continuing to explore links and treatments is critical to treating to whole patient.

It is also critical to make a sleep doctor part of your healthcare team if you have a sleep disorder as part of your diagnoses. In many cases, this will require taking matters into your own hands. For years, the only way to see a sleep doctor was via a referral from your GP or another specialist. At The Insomnia and Sleep Institute, we do not require referrals. This makes it easier for patients to explore on their own whether or not they have a sleep issue that requires treatment—as many GPs are not aware of how sleep disorders may fully present.

Conclusions from the AHA Findings

The AHA statement was peer-reviewed by those in various fields, including epidemiology. Although the findings are not considered “formal clinical recommendations,” they are important suggestions to better practices across many fields. The authors suggest that “day-night patterning and circadian biology of SDB-induced consequences jointly influence the structural and electrophysiological structures of the heart.” This situation is ideal for heart arrhythmias to occur. They also stress that studies that support this connection between SDB and arrhythmia is evidence that “discrete episodes of stopping breathing trigger atrial and ventricular arrhythmia events.”

Additionally, the researchers suggest that treating SDB can lessen AF recurrence once common interventions are completed. However, they also note that there is no “high-level evidence from randomized trials supporting a role for SDB intervention in rhythm control.” They do say that there are more opportunities for SDB screening that use, “predictive metrics and underlying pathophysiology.” SDB falls under the AHA document for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common type of sleep apnea and one of the most common sleep disorders.

Understanding Sleep Co-morbidities

Although the AHA of course focuses on the link between the heart and other health conditions, it’s important to remember that lack of sleep—no matter the cause—is going to negatively affect every part of a person’s life. If you or your child is struggling with lack of sleep, the sooner you get help, the better. The first step is a consultation with a sleep expert who can diagnose conditions, which will inform testing and treatment (if applicable). We are proud to serve as the face of sleep medicine in Arizona under the guidance of triple board-certified Dr. Ruchir P. Patel. To schedule your consultation, call The Insomnia and Sleep Institute today or, for an even faster response, complete the online contact form right now.