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How Sleep Affects Heart Failure

heart failure

Don’t wait until it’s too late to learn the connection between sleep deprivation and heart failure (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Research study after research study have shown how important sleep is to our overall health and more than once chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to higher risks for developing cardiovascular problems. The results of a new study show that sleep is also crucial for those who are already experiencing cardiovascular problems. In the study, patients with heart failure were more likely to have unplanned hospitalizations when they also suffered from struggles with sleep.

The study results were presented at EuroHeartCare, the annual meeting of the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions (CCNAP) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), this month in Norway.

Previous studies and patient data show that difficulties with sleep are common amongst heart failure patients. What was not known was how persistent these sleep difficulties were and whether or not the resulting chronic sleep deprivation was negatively impacting the health of those with heart failure.   The goal of the study was to understand if there was any link between sleep and hospitalizations in heart failure patients.

The study included 500 patients who had been hospitalized for heart failure and who were already participating in a coordinating study called the Outcomes of Advising and Counseling in Heart failure (COACH) study. When the patients were in the hospital, researchers collected data on their mental health, physical function, and sleep. Sleep data was captured using the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). The research team contacted participants again 12 months after their initial hospitalization to gather additional data. This subsequent interview also captured information on the number of unplanned hospitalizations that occurred during that timeframe and the same sleep assessment was conducted.

They found that across the 500 participants, 43%, or 215, reported experiencing sleep problems during their initial hospitalization. After the 12 months had passed, 30% of those participants reported continuing to experience sleep challenges.   The participants in that 30% group who continued to have sleep problems were twice as likely to have experienced unplanned hospitalizations during the 12 month timeframe as those participants who did not report having sleep difficulties.

They also found that 14% of the participants who did not initially report sleep difficulties, developed sleep problems during the 12 month period. While there was an elevated risk for unplanned hospitalizations within this group when compared to the group without sleep problems, it was not as significant as the increase seen in patients with consistent sleep challenges.

While there are no clear explanations of how poor sleep leads to more hospitalizations in heart failure patients, researchers believe it may be a combination of factors including increased inflammation and higher level of stress hormones, both of which result from sleep deprivation and both of which accelerate heart failure symptoms.

These findings underline just how important sleep is to maintaining good health. As many doctors do not currently monitor sleep as part of managing heart failure cases, it also indicates that proactively addressing any problems with sleep as part of overall management of the disease may need to become a standard practice.


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