You Can Effectively Treat Restless Legs


Restless Legs
No title

Restless Legs Syndrome is more than just a nuisance; it can be downright debilitating. 

Does the following scenario sound familiar?

There they go again. You’re laying in bed, wanting to go to sleep, but your darn legs just won’t get comfortable. And of course, it’s always worse at night.

Getting up and walking around helps, but it’s bedtime now, and you really need to get some sleep because you’ve got a busy day tomorrow.


What is restless legs syndrome (RLS)?

RLS can be defined as a feeling of restlessness, discomfort that’s relieved with movement, and worsening of symptoms at night.

Heredity plays a part in the early development of symptoms. A general rule of thumb is that if symptoms developed before age 45, suspect a family history.
Restless Legs can also be either the main issue, or secondary to the main issue. To further complicate matters, there’s also iron deficiency RLS, and Iron sufficient RLS (more on this later)

RLS can even affect your arms.


What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?

This debilitating syndrome has both known and unknown causes.

Known causes include Some diseases, certain medications, iron deficiency, and even pregnancy.
Theories about the cause of RLS include either nerve damage or some abnormalities in the central nervous system. If the central nervous system is the culprit, RLS I due to an inability to adequately use iron. This is also known as iron deficiency RLS.
If the cause is from a certain medication you’re taking, then discontinuing that medication should stop your restless legs. Although you shouldn’t stop any medication on your own without consulting your Doctor.
Also, sitting for long periods of time will make symptoms worse.
Although there are many things that can cause restless legs, most of the time, the cause is not clear.


However, the symptoms are.

There’s a strong urge to move your legs; accompanied by itching, burning, tingling, or aching sensations.

Symptoms are worse in the evening or at night, though they may be present during the day as well.

This discomfort though not necessarily painful, may be enough to disrupt sleep and cause insomnia.


Who’s affected?

Mostly middle age and women? Incidence increases with age

Pregnancy can worsen the symptoms

Affects more women than men

It could also be a sign of more serious conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, Kidney failure, or Diabetes (Peripheral Neuropathy)
If you have restless legs there’s a good chance you’ll have another symptom that takes place after you fall asleep.
This is known as…


Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)

In fact, statistics show that 80% of people with RLS have PLMD; although most people with PLMD’s don’t have RLS.

PLMD’s are very regular leg twitches that occur while your sleeping. These twitches can be great enough to cause arousals from sleep.

As with RLS, more often than not, the cause of PLMD’s is unknown.

And like RLS, certain medical conditions, and or medications can also cause PLMD.

Generally, if you have PLMD, you won’t even know it; but if you have a bed partner, they will; unless they sleep really deep.

What you’ll probably be aware of is that you wake up a lot throughout the night. You’ll get up in the morning feeling like you haven’t really slept, and you’ll drag through the day tired and fatigued.

The effectiveness of various drugs and other treatment forms are currently being studied.

The following isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.


Standard Treatment

Of course, the downside to any medication  Drug tolerance Rebound effect.
Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant used to treat restless legs.clinical trials show it reduces pain and improves sleep.

Sinemet (Levodopa) is another anticonvulsant that has been effective

As noted earlier, certain medications can cause restless legs; and antidepressants are the most common.


Alternative Treatment

There are quite a few fairly good alternative options to medications; or in addition to medications.

If you’re taking any medications for restless legs, don’t stop them,; but you can include some of these other options. However, talk with your Doctor before making any changes to what you’re already doing.

The following alternative treatments have been clinically studied, and show promising results:

Vitamins—E, B, and C—All work by increasing circulation

Magnesium—Has shown some promise, is still under investigation

Near-infrared light(NIR Light)—In clinical trials, NIR Light works by improving circulation; and has reduced symptoms for up to two weeks.

Massage and exercise—Works by increasing circulation.

Iron supplement—This is really investigational, and so far, and most effective for those with iron deficiency RLS.

Acupuncture—A 30-day clinical trial comparing acupuncture to Sinemet, showed Acupuncture to be more effective. This is still under investigation, as other studies show mixed results.

Prayer and Meditation—Fascinating results on the effectiveness of prayer on healing. This could be a topic all by itself.



Although restless legs syndrome can be very frustrating, to put it mildly, there are things you can do to help reduce these irritating symptoms.

alternative choices; both of which have their merits. Ultimately, it comes down to what is more effective for you. Most likely, it will be some combination of both types of treatment.

So if you are suffering from RLS and/or PLMD’s, and aren’t getting the help you need, talk to your Doctor about some of these treatments and hopefully, you’ll find something that works for you.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about drowsy driving.

Till next week, blessings…


For further reading go to Pubmed and Google Scholar

Keywords ‘Restless Legs Syndrome’ Periodic Limb Movement Disorder


Harmful Effects Of Ambien


Harmful Effects of Ambien

Lack of sleep creates stress on the body, leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Sleep is absolutely critical to our health and well-being. And while it’s recommended we get an average of 8 hours sleep a night; ultimately, it’s the quality of sleep that’s more important.

But for many of us, a good nights sleep just doesn’t happen. This may be due to undiagnosed, or inadequately treated, sleep apnea; or it could be the cares and concerns of life. Some people just can’t ‘turn their brains off’, and racing thoughts keep them awake. It could any number of things.

So what do you do if you can’t sleep? Well, it’d be nice if we could just identify the reason, and eliminate that. But for many, it’s not that simple. Thankfully, there are alternatives; and among them is a sleeping pill called Ambien (Zolpidem).

But let’s take a closer look at this little guy.



Ambien, like other sleeping pills, works on the same part of the brain as drugs which treat anxiety. And some of Ambien’s success might be just that; by treating a persons anxiety, it helps them relax so they can actually fall asleep.

Interestingly, studies indicate that the patients monitored in a lab reported better sleep after taking Ambien then what the researchers actually observed. So it would seem it is more the reduction in anxiety, then increased sleep that makes a person feel better; a least in some cases.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of Ambien’s side effects.


Among the more  common ones are:

  • Daytime drowsiness, loss of coordination, dizziness.
  • Dry mouth, sore throat, stuffy nose.
  • Nausea, constipation, diarrhea

Ambien also contains Lactose, so just be aware of that as well.

Other, more serious side effects include:

Other, more serious side effects include:

  • Memory loss, difficulty with concentration.
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as delusional thinking.
  • Liver problems. Severe allergic reaction.
  • Chest pain, fast and/or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath.

Additionally, Ambien is really only meant for short term usage, so it shouldn’t be taken for more than  5 weeks without your Doctor’s advice; not only because of the rather nasty side effects but also because it tends to be habit forming.

However, I know one guy who’s been taking it for several years with no bad side effects. But I also know another guy who’s concerned about the effects he is suffering and wanted to know more about Ambien. Which is, in fact, why I wrote this article

Then there’s the gender difference because Ambien’s  side effects are more pronounced in women; as a result, It’s recommended that women take a smaller dose than men. In fact, men are usually prescribed 10 mg, or 12.5mg if extended release; whereas for women, the recommended dose is 5mg.

And talk to your Doctor about drug interactions with any other medications you’re taking; as there can be unexpected interactions. And some of these can cause symptoms that may lead to a misdiagnosis.

Also be extra careful if you drink alcohol, take any prescription pain pill, or any anti-anxiety medication; because Narcotics make you breathe slower, and anti-anxiety meds cause drowsiness. Combine these with a sleeping pill and you could be asking for trouble.

There are other, more safe options available.


Alternatives To Ambien

A sleeping pill may be only masking the real issue, although it’s not always easy to determine what that real issue is.  Yet understanding the dangers of Ambien, just might be enough to send you looking for other ways to accomplish this.


Let’s take a look at a few of them.



Melatonin is a hormone which is naturally produced by your brain and makes you drowsy.  Its output is hindered by light; thus, lowering any light source, including closing your eyes, will increase its levels.

The recommended dose is  0.3-1mg. And yet we typically see over-the-counter Melatonin in 3-10 mg doses, or 10 times the recommended dose!. This is where the trouble comes in because too much melatonin in your brain can make it misbehave and react just the opposite to the hormone; thus actually increasing insomnia.


Some studies show melatonin as effective as Ambien; and just like with any medicine, neither Ambien nor melatonin work for everyone.


The most common side effects of too much Melatonin include Daytime sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness.

Interestingly, some studies show melatonin as effective as ambien. But just like with any medicine, neither ambien nor melatonin work for everyone.

So if you’ve tried Melatonin and it didn’t seem to work for you, maybe you were just taking too much(?).


Other Things To Try


  • Herbal teas, such as Chamomile, Valerian Root, Lavender, and St. Johns Wort; to name just a few.
  • High Carb bedtime snack, White noise, meditation, soft music.
  • Setting a regular bedtime.
  • Lifestyle changes…Do you have any habits that interfere with sleep? Turn off the t.v. Smartphone, pad etc..



There are a number of reasons why you can’t sleep, and there are also a number of solutions. Unfortunately, even though Ambien can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, it can also create a whole new set of problems.

(And yes, there are quite a few other medications that can help you sleep, but I’ve focused specifically on Ambien because I had someone ask me about it.)

Now I’m not a Doctor, and I can’t tell you what to do, but I do want to get relevant information out to you. So if you, or anyone you know, has any concern about Ambien, or any other sleeping pill; or if you just want more information on alternative treatments, leave a comment below. I’ll respond to any appropriate questions or concerns.

Also, don’t forget to leave your email address so you can continue to receive timely information on topics all about sleep.


Till next time…Blessings.

A Typical Sleep Study


Sleep StudyA Sleep Study Could Save Your Life

If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that having a sleep study is more than about just getting a good nights sleep. Although waking up feeling like you actually slept, and going about your day with enough energy to actually do stuff, is nice; that’s merely a side effect of PAP treatment.

But even then, it can be quite easy to put off; and not knowing what to expect can make it all the easier to do so.

This article was written with that in mind. So if you’re thinking of having a sleep study, but you’re hesitating because you don’t know what to expect…Your wait is over.

I’ve been doing sleep studies for over 10 years now, and have known people who were very glad they had a sleep study. While I haven’t personally had an actual sleep study, I’ve been hooked up by one of our students, so I know what we put you guys through.

I’ll share my personal experience later in this article.


But first…

Preparing  For The Study

Patients are usually at least a little bit nervous when they come in for a sleep study; this is a normal response to the unknown.

Sometimes your friends aren’t the best resource, especially when.    They’re trying to be funny. For instance, I had a patient come in a few years ago who was told by a ‘friend that they would have to shave his head; this, of course, is not true.

However, it is necessary to be clean shaven as there are sensors placed on your chin and held in place with tape.

The exception to this is if you have a beard; the tech can apply sensors using the same technique they use to apply sensors to your head (if you have hair)


Just a few do’s and don’t’s the day of the study.

Do carry out your daily activities as usual.

Unless otherwise directed by your Dr., take any medicine according to your regular schedule.

Try not to take any naps’ Don’t drink any caffeinated beverages after 2 pm

Please don’t show up for your sleep study under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.

If you have a prescription for medical marijuana, you probably already know that it’s actually a good sleep aide; at last initially. But more research is needed on this…Any volunteers?

Some people say they are so used to consuming ‘a little’ alcohol at bedtime, that if they don’t drink, it interferes with their sleep. While a little alcohol at bedtime might help you fall asleep faster, more is not better. In fact, as alcohol breaks down in your system, it actually causes more arousals from sleep.

What can I bring?

Bring your own pillow (this is also the thing most people forget to take when they leave in the morning). Also, bring something comfortable to sleep in, besides your own skin, that is.

Even if your study is being done in a hospital, it’s a good idea to bring your own toiletries; although not all labs have showers available, so you’d want to check on that one.

If you are diabetic and use insulin, please bring that with, along with your glucometer.

Usually, it’s fine to bring a snack.

You can’t bring your pet or have your significant other spend the night; as we don’t want anything interfering with your sleep.

Also, bring any paperwork that was sent to you to fill out in advance. We have had patients who have called in asking if they needed to re-schedule their appointment because they didn’t have their paperwork filled out. That is not necessary, as the Technologist usually has extra forms you can fill out in the lab.

During The Study

If the lab is in a hospital, you’ll need to go to the ER to get registered. From there, the Technologist who will be doing your study will come out to walk you back to the sleep lab. If you need a wheelchair, one can be provided for you.

Some sleep studies are done apart from hospitals or are on hospital grounds but in a building separate from the hospital itself. In that case, you can normally just go right to the lab without having to go through the hospital.

Once In your room,  there will more than likely be some additional paperwork to fill out.  You can also change into whatever you will be sleeping in.


The hookup process

You’ll be wired pretty much head to toe, but don’t worry, all the wires are pretty small, and after a while,  you won’t even notice them that much

This is what you’ll have to put up with.


  • Patches are attached with wires to your legs which monitor leg movement.
  • Belts are placed around your belly and chest to measure breathing.
  • Patches on your upper chest monitor your heart.
  • Wires attached by your eyes and chin to measure eye movement and muscle tension.
  • Sensors also attached to your scalp to monitor brain waves.

A type of paste is used to apply sensors to your scalp and face, which easily breaks down in warm water; so a good shower in the morning should take care of it.

A type of paste is used to apply sensors to your scalp and face, which easily breaks down in warm water; so a good shower in the morning should take care of it.

The tech will also want you to sleep on your back as much as possible because most sleep disordered breathing is more pronounced on your back.  However, if you have any injury that makes that difficult, let them know about it; in that case, back sleep should not be required.

You will Initially be monitored for how you’re breathing while you sleep. If they determine that pap therapy would be a good choice, they’ll come in and start this treatment on you. The rest of the night will be spent on pap treatment while the technologist adjusts the pressure to get you breathing well.


They won’t have to come in and adjust your pressures, as this can be done from a control outside your room.

I Had This Happen To Me

While I’ve never had an actual sleep study, I did get to pretend I was a patient for a student not too long ago.  And even though I had nothing to worry about, I mean, I didn’t have any sleep or sleep-related problems, I was still a bit nervous!! Although this didn’t last long.

After changing into my sleep wear, I went into my bedroom. The Tech had everything set up and explained things to me as they got me all wired.

I have hairy legs, so became somewhat concerned about how the sensors and tape would stick. Typically, when I do the sleep study, I’ll shave spots on the patient’s legs where I place sensors; but now, even the thought of having some of the hair on my legs shaved gave me pause.

Turns out the tech didn’t shave my legs after all; but then there’s the old tape on hair deal going on. However, they solved this issue by using paper tape; which pulled off without any pain.

The rest of the hook up was fairly relaxing; and even though I’m quite used to being a part of the routine, others who have never had a sleep study before will occasionally comment on how relaxing the process is. So it’s not just me saying that.

In fact, I’ve even had patients fall asleep on me during this time. Now, of course, a lot of people who come in for a sleep study are pretty tired, to begin with, so I can’t take all the credit.

The tech used a gritty gel to prep the areas they were going to apply sensors to, and used Q-Tips to scrub with. They were careful not to scrub hard and cause any irritation. Although some vigorous scrubbing is necessary to get a clean signal.

After the hookup, my Technologist removed all the wires, and patches; and again, this was a painless procedure.

After The Study

At the end of the study, your technologist can’t give you any information, as the study has to be interpreted first. This is done by a Dr. who is board certified in sleep medicine.

Generally, a follow-up appointment is made and a Dr. will go over the results of the study with you.


The Best Way To Treat Sleep Apnea



What Are Your Therapy Options?

Before we look at some of these alternatives, let’s re-visit what happens apneawhen you sleep. There are two different processes that can cause you to not breathe. There can be an obstructive component; where your airway closes off. Or there can be a brain signal component in which your brain doesn’t tell your body to breathe.

Here’s a look at each one.

Your airway is basically all muscle; and while you’re awake, muscle tone and healthy breathing are generally good enough to keep your airway open.

Once you’re asleep, however, muscles relax, and breathing slows down. Your airway becomes floppy, and can either partially or totally collapse; causing snoring and/or obstructive breathing. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea, sleep apnea, or just OSA.

In Central Sleep Apnea, or CSA, your airway remains open but your brain doesn’t send a signal to breathe. This is not necessarily because of any brain damage (although it could be); sensors in your brain simply don’t sense the need to breathe at that moment.

This can happen with certain heart disease, where your blood circulation is compromised. In people with atrial fibrillation, and congestive heart failure, for example;  which if you remember from my last blog, are two heart conditions also associated with OSA.

Knowledge is power, so the more you understand the damaging effects caused by sleep apnea, and the more you’re aware of the various treatment options; the more likely you’ll be to use some form of treatment.

Now because we’re not all the same, different treatment options are available.   Let’s have a look at some of your choices.


Pap Treatment

PAP stands for Positive Air Pressure, and because there are different ways your breathing can be compromised while you sleep, there need to be different ways to treat them. Following is a brief list of PAP treatment options:

CPAP, or Continuous Positive Air Pressure, is just what the name implies. Air pressure is continuous, and it is this pressure that helps hold your airway open. CPAP is the most common form of this treatment.

Bi-PAP has 2 settings: a higher pressure while breathing in, and a lower pressure while breathing out. This helps you take a deeper breath, and can be useful if you have certain lung or heart diseases; or if you can’t tolerate CPAP.

ASV, or Auto Servo Ventilation, is specifically for people who have mainly central sleep apnea.

For those who can’t tolerate PAP treatment, there are other options. Let’s take a look at some of these.


Oral Appliances

There are a number of variations on this theme. Generally, the idea here is to either hold your jaw or tongue, forward; and they work best on people with mild to moderate OSA. Although the devices tend to be better tolerated than PAP , they should really only be considered if you aren’t tolerating that form of treatment.

To be properly fitted, you must be referred to a dentist who will make a mold of your teeth, and then make an appliance custom fit for you. A follow-up sleep study might be required to assure proper adjustment of the appliance.


Prevent and Theravent

These are little devices that sit in the nostrils. There’s a sponge-like filter that closes when you exhale, which creates a pressure. And it’s that pressure that helps hold your airway open

They’ve been proven to be fairly successful, although you really should consult your Dr. on this as well.

If you’re  presently on CPAP but not tolerating treatment, and have mild to moderate sleep apnea this might be a viable alternative. However, if you already have heart disease or other OSA-related issues, especially if your sleep apnea is severe, this might not be the most effective option.


Breathe Right Strips

This is a little strip that has adhesive on one side that allows it to stick to your nose. It’s made of a springy like material, so once attached, will pull your nasal passages open as it tries to return to its original shape.

It works well at opening up your sinus passages if you have nasal congestion, but does nothing as far as keeping the airway in your throat open, and this is where OSA occurs.

Other forms of treatment include…


Positional Therapy

Most sleep apnea is much more noticeable on your back,  so just not sleeping that way can improve breathing quite a bit. That’s because your airway is more likely to collapse when you’re on your back, as gravity pulls your tongue and jaw down against your throat. Therefore, laying on your side makes it less likely this will happen.

And sometimes it doesn’t take much. For example, I saw a video of a sleep study, and the patient barely turned his head; but it was just enough to make his sleep apnea worse.

If you have sleep apnea but can’t tolerate pap treatment, and are a back sleeper, there are a few ways to keep you off your back. However, this does not guarantee you will no longer have sleep apnea; although positional therapy can reduce, and possibly eliminate sleep apnea.

And t arere are various ways to accomplish this feat. There’re the old do-it-your-self tennis balls sown into the back of a tee shirt trick. But also some more sophisticated stuff, like a device on the back of your neck that vibrates when you turn on to your back. There are also pillows which are shaped in a way that helps keep your airway open.

However, positional therapy is not effective on everyone; so a sleep study should be done first to see if OSA can be controlled on your side without CPAP treatment

Also positional therapy is generally considered a secondary option if CPAP has failed, usually because of intolerance to treatment.


Lifestyle Choices

Sleep apnea is very much affected by weight. And as such, weight loss can be a very effective way to reduce OSA. In fact, losing weight is so effective, that in some cases, sleep apnea has been eliminated altogether.

There’ve been some interesting studies done on the use of singing, or playing a wind instrument to exercise throat muscles. And although these exercises can reduce snoring, they’ve shown no change in day time sleepiness.


Inspire Therapy

See below under ‘surgery’ for some information on this new device.



This is another option for those who can’t tolerate PAP. And although Surgery can reduce the severity of seep apnea, it might not eliminate it. You still could need CPAP after surgery, although possibly at a reduced pressure.

There are various degrees of surgery; depending on the severity of OSA, and also where the obstruction is.

These procedures range all the way from using a laser to cut excess tissue from the back of your throat, all the way  up to surgically advancing your jaw, which literally re-structures your face. You can also have a hole cut in your throat and a tube placed to allow you to breathe.

Additionally, procedures can be done that reduce the size of your stomach, thus causing you to eat less.

There’s also new device called  ‘Inspire Therapy’. This is a surgically implanted mechanism that delivers an electrical pulse to airway muscles, which causes your airway to stay open. However, at present, this device is mainly for people who can’t tolerate PAP treatment; and I believe it is quite a spendy little thing.



If you have sleep apnea, there are presently no medications that can cure that. But there are, however, some medicines that can help you stay awake; as well as some that can help you sleep.


A couple of the more common ones are:

Provigil (Modafinil)–This drug can keep you awake and alert for up to 40 hrs or more. It even improves your memory and enhances your mood. Once this drug wears off, you just have to catch up on some missed sleep.

Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta, are all meds that will help you fall asleep.



So what’s the best treatment option? As we’ve seen, there isn’t a one size fits all.

And while there are many different therapy choices, PAP treatment remains the ‘gold standard of care; and has proven to be the most effective. But again, if you can’t tolerate PAP, it’s good to know there are other ways to treat sleep apnea

For those of you who have been following my blog you’re aware of the dangers of untreated sleep apnea; and now you’re more aware of some of the various treatment options as well.

So, if you, or someone you know has, or is suspected to have OSA, the sooner you get a sleep study the better. If you’re concerned about the cost of a study, what’s that compared to the value of your life?  Sleep  Apnea is that serious; don’t let denial kill you.

In my next blog I’ll walk you through a typical sleep study. Till next week, blessings…

Are You Safe From Heart Disease?

What Happens While You Sleep Might Be Killing You


Heart DiseaseIn my last article, I talked about several illnesses that can be caused by sleep apnea (OSA). In this article I’ll focus specifically on the heart; that little guy that gives you life.


What OSA Does To Your Heart

When you’re awake, you generally have good muscle tone, and your breathing is usually brisk enough to keep your airway open. Once you fall asleep, your muscles relax and your breathing slows down; which allows the airway to become ‘floppy’, making it vulnerable to collapse, either partially or completely.

When that happens, oxygen levels drop. This drop in 02 causes stress on your heart and it releases a hormone called epinephrine (adrenaline). It also responds to this by slowing down, causing the arteries to narrow in an effort to compensate for that.

These processes put quite a strain on your heart and can lead to heart disease. Let’s take a look at the four most likely to occur with OSA. The most common types found in sleep apnea are Hypertension, atrial fibrillation (afib),  coronary artery disease (CAD), and heart failure.

But first let’s consider the difference in how men and women experience heart disease


Men And Women Experience Heart Disease Differently

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, but women experience symptoms differently than men. And most Physicians, including Cardiologists, tend to believe that heart disease is more common in men than women. As a result, they either don’t recognize the symptoms; or worse, have an ‘it’s all in your head’ mentality.

For instance, a guy goes to the ER with chest pain, and after a whole series of tests,  his heart is thoroughly checked out. He is ultimately placed on an appropriate heart medication and will be monitored closely. While a woman who goes in with chest pains might be given a psychiatric evaluation and sent home on some anti-anxiety pill.

And because women are less likely to receive appropriate treatment, the death rate among females is higher; even though men have a greater risk of heart attack.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the four main heart diseases related to sleep apnea.


High blood pressure (hypertension)

You can only go without breathing for so long; eventually, your brain signals your body to wake up and take a breath.  When this happens, the heart, which had slowed down, now starts beating faster, pumping more oxygen rich blood into your arteries.

However, these arteries are still constricted from your heart responding to low oxygen levels in your blood; and this, my friend, causes an increase in blood pressure. The problem becomes more severe over time, because eventually your blood pressure remains high 24/7.

Medicine your Dr. might prescribe for that will help reduce hypertension, either by getting rid of excess fluid around your heart, reducing your heart rate, or causing your arteries to open up.

Hypertension can also cause atrial fibrillation, but so can sleep apnea.


Atrial Fibrillation (a-fib)

The stress your heart is under during repeated episodes of not breathing causes a part of the heart called the left atrium to become enlarged. This results in a misfiring of the heart, and it begins to beat irregularly.

When that happens it can allow blood to pool in a part of the heart called the atria (see diagram).  This pooling can allow the blood to coagulate, forming a clot; if this clot comes loose it can flow through your artery and lodge in your brain, causing a stroke.

Medicine your Dr. might prescribe for this condition will thin your blood, making clots less likely to happen. Other meds include those that slow the heart, lower blood pressure, and help stabilize the rhythm.


Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death.  Cholesterol and other fatty substances, build up in your arteries, causing what’s known as plaque; which makes your arteries stiff. If a chunk of this plaque breaks off, it can flow through your blood system; and you already know what happens next.

However, the repetitive cycle of oxygen levels dropping then returning to normal levels, (as what happens in OSA), creates an inflammatory process that contributes to the development of CAD.

And unfortunately, at this time there is no known cure.


Heart failure (HF)

The stress that sleep apnea puts on your heart causes it to become weak and not pump blood effectively.  So even though it’s called heart failure, your heart is still beating; it’s just not as efficient as it could be. Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization in those over 65 and can lead to death

Medicines that treat HF include those that help with blood pressure, and stabilize the rhythm. Various surgical procedures can be done as well.


Side Effects

As good as these medications are, they also have side effects that can disrupt your sleep. These include, but are not limited to:

  •  Frequent urge to urinate, diarrhea, stomach pain.
  •  Nausea, vomiting, headache.
  •  Muscle pains, cough, sore throat.


Natural Supplements Can Also be Beneficial

There are numerous supplements out there that have been proven to effectively treat various heart diseases. However, use caution  as many of them make claims; but because these supplements aren’t regulated, purity and standardization are legitimate concerns. They also have their own side effects that can cause various discomforts.

Take a look at the following supplements that have been shown to be of some benefit.



this is an enzyme produced by your body and is also found in organ meats. It’s used for cell growth and maintenance; and can also aide in the treatment of heart failure. Your body normally produces co-q10 in ample amounts; however, this decreases as we age, and also may be low in people with heart disease.


Omega 3 fatty acid (fish oil)

Your body doesn’t produce this type of good fat so it must be added to your diet. It works by lowering  triglyceride levels, which are the fats that are stored in your body. If your triglyceride numbers get to high you can develop heart disease.

Good food sources include: Tuna, anchovies, sardines, and salmon; but you can also get Fish oil in supplement form.



is a type of sugar produced by the body, and studies indicate that it may improve heart function in people with coronary artery disease. You can also buy D-Ribose in powder form.



Cholesterol in plants helps lower cholesterol in humans. Good sources of this are found in certain fruits, vegetables, and oils.



The Big 3 Of A Healthy Lifestyle

  •  Diet–Rich in fruits vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  •   Exercise–You really don’t need to strain yourself here;  even a 30-minute walk 5 times a week can make a noticeable difference.
  •  Sleep–There are many health benefits from getting a good nights sleep. In fact, some have even gone so far as to say that sleep is more important than both diet and exercise!!


Some Questions

Can CPAP ‘Cure’ Heart Disease?

Not necessarily, although it can relieve the stress on your heart caused by sleep apnea; thus allowing it to function better. Also, some people have had their heart medications reduced, or stopped altogether after being on cpap.


Can sleep apnea be cured?

In some cases, people have been ‘cured’ of sleep apnea by losing weight, but don’t count on that. There are also some surgical procedures that have lessened the severity of OSA. Also, in some cases, something called ‘positional therapy’ has helped. In positional therapy, you are kept off your back by various methods.


What if I already have heart disease?

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, talk with your Dr. If you are already using CPAP, continue to do so; and take any medications as prescribed.


I just snore, should I be concerned?

Occasional snoring may be no more than a nuisance, more to your bed partner then you. However, long term snoring not only disrupts your sleep, it also causes injury to your throat through the constant vibration of tissue.

Here’s the problem…There are 2 arteries in your neck that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain; which become inflamed by the constant vibration from snoring. Inflammation causes a hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis; which leads to heart disease.

So snoring by itself can be a serious health risk


Is sleep apnea hereditary?

Technically, yes. For instance, if your dad had sleep apnea and you inherit his physical characteristics, you’re more likely to experience sleep apnea.



If you have OSA, your heart takes quite a beating while you sleep; and if this initial issue isn’t dealt with, it could prove to be deadly. Also, heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease; the public, as well as medical professionals, need to be more aware of its impact on women. So if you suspect that you might have OSA, do yourself and those who love you a favor, and talk with your Dr.

We’ll cover different treatment options in our next blog. You won’t want to miss this one.