Chronic sleep disorders can lead to heart attacks, hypertension, stroke and other major illnesses, according to sleep specialists.
Insomnia and sleep apnea are familiar to most Americans, and up to 70 million adults in the U.S. are affected by sleep disorders, according to the federal Institute of Medicine.
Aside from illnesses, sleep deprivation or interruption has an economic impact, cutting into optimum performance at work and other parts of everyday life, said Dr. Brynn Dredla of Mayo Clinic.
Certain sleep disorders can lead to long-term health consequences, such as high blood pressure, Dredla said.
Obesity and genetics usually cause sleep apnea, a disorder in which throat muscles relax and close, making breathing difficult, said Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona.
“If we have a predisposition to closure of the airway, our muscles relax during sleep, then the muscles really close down so we are not getting enough air our bodies, which will send a signal to take bigger deeper breaths,” Dredla said. “That’s what you hear when someone is snoring.”
Patients with sleep apnea are more likely to develop cardiac arrhythmia because low oxygen in blood causes the heart to dilate and leads to heart failure, Parthasarathy said. In addition to heart failure, inflammation in the body can cause strokes.
Insomnia is one of the more common forms of sleep disorder that can lead to death, Parthasarathy said.
Researchers found persistent insomnia caused increase risk of cardiopulmonary related deaths, according to a study by the American Journal of Medicine. Results found an increase in CRP levels, or inflammation of the body, which can lead to higher risk of heart attacks.
More than 20 percent of about 1,400 participants in the study died, mostly because of persistent insomnia, according to a follow-up 20 years later.
Adequate sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours of sleep a night, while teenagers need about nine hours of sleep every night, Dredla said.
Parthasarathy said people can sleep for eight hours but still not feel refreshed because insomnia causes a “nonrestorative sleep.”
Those who suffer from lack of sleep or disrupted sleep can help themselves or seek professional help, experts said.
The constant exposure to blue light from smartphones and other electronic devices – basically all day, every day – interrupts the natural sleep cycle, Dredla said.
“Being able to consciously be able to turn off electronics is kind of Number One to being able to prioritize sleep,” Dredla said.
Parthasarathy said patients and physicians should refer to two questions if they are worried that sleep is affecting their health: “Do you have trouble sleeping at night?” and “Do you have trouble maintaining wakefulness during the day?”
If patients answer yes to either of these questions, they should seek help from a sleep specialist, who can diagnose sleep disorders and recommend treatment, Parthasarathy said.