February 11, 2024

Poor Sleep Can Increase the Risk of Atrial Fibrillation

Getting a poor night’s sleep not only makes us feel tired but can also up the chances of experiencing atrial fibrillation (A-Fib), a condition marked by irregular heartbeats with serious heart-related risks. 

A study by UC San Francisco found a 15% increased risk of A-Fib following a bad night’s sleep. What’s more concerning is that ongoing sleep issues are linked to longer A-Fib episodes. For every step down in sleep quality, there’s an average addition of 16 minutes of A-Fib per day. Another 2019 study revealed that sleeping too little (less than 6 hours) or too much (over 8 hours) may increase the chances of developing A-Fib.

A 2018 study highlights the consistent prediction of A-Fib by sleep disruption. It suggests that focusing on sleep hygiene to enhance sleep might be a preventive and therapeutic strategy for A-Fib. So, beyond feeling groggy, prioritizing good sleep may significantly impact heart health, potentially reducing the risk and duration of A-Fib episodes. 

Keep reading this article to know the connection between atrial fibrillation and poor sleep in detail.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, commonly known as Afib, might not always grab your attention, but those with it often sense a speedy, erratic heartbeat—especially disconcerting at night, disrupting sleep. 

The Johns Hopkins Medicine notes over 5 million Americans grapple with this abnormal heart rhythm. The heart’s upper chambers (atria) lose their rhythm, thumping over 200 beats per minute, hindering efficient blood pumping into the lower chambers (ventricles) and throughout the body. This not only compromises heart function but also escalates clotting and stroke risks up to fivefold, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research from The American Journal of Medicine reveals about a third of Afib cases show no symptoms. The remaining experience various signals, be it during the day or night:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in legs or ankles, signaling potential heart failure
  • Rapid, chaotic, or pounding heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms shouldn’t be overlooked, as they may indicate underlying issues. Recognizing Afib’s subtle signs is crucial for timely intervention. By understanding its impact on daily life, from restless nights to daytime discomfort, individuals can better navigate potential health risks associated with this common arrhythmia.

Why Does Atrial Fibrillation Turn Out More Intense During Night?

While there’s no solid evidence linking atrial fibrillation (Afib) to specific times of the day, some factors might make it feel more noticeable at night. It’s not a mere imagination; relaxation at night and the prone position may enhance awareness of Afib. 

A study in Frontiers in Physiology discovered a potential link between sleep position and Afib. Among 94 participants with intermittent Afib, nearly 25% reported that their sleep position triggered symptoms, especially when sleeping on their left side or back. Researchers suggested that the left-side position might strain the atrium and pulmonary veins, potentially triggering atrial fibrillation. Back sleepers were also associated with a higher risk of Afib, often linked to sleep apnea. Those experiencing more symptoms based on their sleep position tended to have a higher body mass index (BMI). 

So, while Afib itself may not be tied to a specific time of day, paying attention to sleep position and habits could be beneficial for individuals with atrial fibrillation concerns.

How Does Atrial Fibrillation Affect Sleep?

Getting a good night’s sleep is already a challenge, and dealing with a racing heart due to Afib can make it even tougher. A study in Heart Rhythm, involving 4,553 people with 12% having Afib, revealed that the condition is linked to more frequent nighttime awakenings. These episodes can disrupt deep sleep and leave individuals feeling restless.

The same analysis highlighted that falling asleep takes longer for those with Afib, particularly when their racing heart becomes noticeable once they settle in. It’s a struggle to find comfort when your heart rate is on the fast track.

The impact extends beyond the physical realm; stress about sleep becomes a constant companion for those with Afib. The 3 a.m. wake-up call, accompanied by worries about not sleeping well, triggers stress hormones that further complicate the already challenging situation.

In essence, Afib not only interrupts sleep but also creates a cycle of disrupted nights, prolonged efforts to sleep, and heightened stress levels. It’s a delicate balance, and managing Afib becomes crucial not just for heart health but also for a restful night’s sleep.

How Does Sleep Affect Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (Afib) and sleep problems create a challenging cycle, each influencing the other. Several sleep-related issues can impact the risk of developing Afib.

One well-known factor is sleep apnea, affecting around 15% of U.S. adults. This condition involves frequent interruptions in breathing during the night. Whether due to a closed throat (obstructive sleep apnea) or irregular brain signals (central sleep apnea), research indicates that sleep apnea elevates the likelihood of Afib by two to four times. It poses a general risk to heart health, particularly contributing to conditions like Afib and high blood pressure. The stretching of the left atrium and insufficient oxygen supply to the heart tissue are direct consequences of sleep apnea.

Poor sleep habits, such as waking frequently, inadequate sleep duration, and daytime sleeping due to night work, also contribute to the risk of atrial fibrillation. An analysis of Heart Rhythm found a 36% increased risk of Afib correlated with insomnia. Furthermore, a decrease in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, vital for memory consolidation and brain development, was associated with an 18% increased risk of developing Afib. These factors, highlighted by the British Cardiovascular Society, emphasize the significance of maintaining proper sleep patterns for heart health.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), characterized by involuntary leg movements during the night, has been linked to a worsening of Afib in individuals already dealing with the condition. A study in PLoS One established this association, underlining the importance of addressing RLS to manage and potentially mitigate the impact of Afib.

In essence, understanding the interplay between sleep and atrial fibrillation reveals the importance of fostering good sleep hygiene and addressing sleep-related disorders to reduce the risk and impact of Afib on cardiovascular health.

How to Sleep Well With Atrial Fibrillation

Ensuring a good night’s sleep is crucial for managing Afib symptoms and reducing the risk of future episodes. Making simple lifestyle changes leads to a significant difference.

  1. Adjust Your Sleeping Position:

If you notice increased Afib symptoms at night, consider sleeping on your right side. This position may trigger fewer symptoms compared to sleeping on your left or facing up.

  1. Improve Sleep Hygiene:

Create a conducive environment for restful sleep by following these recommendations from the Sleep Foundation:

  • Set the thermostat between 60-68 degrees.
  • Dim the room lights an hour before bedtime.
  • Reduce screen time by 30 to 60 minutes before sleep.
  • Keep pets off the bed.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Establish a calming pre-sleep routine like meditation or gentle stretching.
  1. Screen for Sleep Apnea:

Many individuals are unaware of nighttime breathing issues. If you share a bed, your partner might notice snoring or irregular breathing. Consult a cardiologist in Buckeye for a sleep study to assess potential sleep apnea. Treatment options, such as a CPAP machine, can significantly improve breathing.

  1. Weight Management:

Weight loss is a pivotal step in reducing the risk of Afib, sleep apnea, heart disease, and diabetes, especially for those with obesity. Research indicates that obesity is the second most significant risk factor for Afib after hypertension. Monitor not just your overall weight but also your waist circumference, as excess abdominal fat is linked to obstructive sleep apnea. Men should aim for a waist circumference under 40 inches and women under 35 inches. Consult your cardiologist in Goodyear for personalized weight management advice.

Prioritize your health and well-being by incorporating these straightforward measures into your routine. Making these changes can contribute to better sleep quality and potentially lower the risk of Afib episodes. If you have concerns or need guidance on weight management, consult with your cardiologist in Goodyear to develop a plan tailored to your age and medical condition.

Final Thoughts

The connection between sleep and atrial fibrillation is strong. You might be more aware of your Afib symptoms at night when there’s less distraction, or your nighttime habits could be contributing to atrial fibrillation. Ensuring good sleep hygiene and addressing any sleep disorders is crucial for minimizing Afib and promoting better sleep. 

If you’re experiencing a racing heart or poor sleep, it’s essential to consult your cardiologist in Buckeye. They can provide effective strategies for improving your sleep quality and managing atrial fibrillation. Prioritizing a restful night’s sleep is key to both reducing Afib symptoms and enhancing overall well-being. Keep an open line of communication with your healthcare provider to address any concerns and optimize your sleep routine for better heart health. Visit Advanced CV Center in Goodyear & Buckeye.

References

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2022.847324/full