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Does Sleep Apnea Affect Blood Pressure?

Published February 1st, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Erik Rivera

Sleep Apnea 101 | Symptoms | Complications | Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure | Treatment

Do you snore at night? Do you feel excessively tired during the day?

These symptoms could indicate that you have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people in the United States and is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep.

It can lead to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure.

In this article, we will explore the relationship between sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

We will also discuss how sleep apnea is treated and what you can do to lower your blood pressure if you suffer from sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep.

This can happen multiple times during sleep, which means you may not get the deep sleep you need.

The reason this happens is that the airway becomes blocked, usually because of enlarged tissues in the throat. This is called obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.

You can also stop breathing in your sleep due to your brain failing to send signals to your muscles to breathe, a form of sleep apnea called central sleep apnea or CSA.

It is also possible to suffer from both, which is called mixed sleep apnea (MSA), or complex sleep apnea.

All three types of sleep apnea can result in a number of problems, including sleepiness during the day, elevated blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases.

Some people are more at risk than others for sleep apnea.

The risk factors that can increase the likelihood of sleep apnea include:

  • Obesity
  • Being male
  • Older age
  • Family history
  • Smoking and using alcohol
  • Allergies
  • Narrow airway caused by large tonsils and adenoids which are both located at the back of your throat

Sleep Apnea and Blood pressure

These are some of the most common risk factors, but there are others too.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring.

If you or your partner have noticed that you snore loudly especially when you sleep on your back, this could be a sign of sleep apnea. Other symptoms can include:

  • Feeling very tired during the day, with a condition called excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) or hypersomnia
  • Breathing pauses or gasping and choking during sleep
  • Having a dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty staying asleep which is also known as insomnia
  • Trouble focusing while awake

What are some of the complications of sleep apnea?

Besides snoring so loudly you wake your bed partner or the people you live with, there are some serious complications that can arise from untreated sleep apnea. The complications of sleep apnea include:

Heart problems

Sleep apnea can cause heart problems by making the heart work harder than it should.

This is because sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and increased stress on the cardiovascular system.

When you have sleep apnea, your body is constantly trying to increase your blood oxygen levels. This extra work can lead to health problems over time and cardiovascular risk including heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.

Type II diabetes

People with sleep apnea are at an increased risk of developing type II diabetes.

This is because sleep apnea can cause insulin resistance and inflammation.

Both of these conditions are known to contribute to the development of type II diabetes. 

Depression

Sleep apnea has been linked with depression. It is not clear if sleep apnea causes depression or if people who are depressed are more likely to develop sleep apnea.

However, it is clear there is a link between the two conditions.

Obesity

People who are obese are more likely to develop sleep apnea. This is because obesity can cause the tissues in the throat to become enlarged and obstruct the airway.

Memory problems

Sleep apnea has been linked with memory problems.

During episodes of sleep apnea, there is a lack of oxygen to the brain which can lead to damage in the areas of the brain responsible for memory.

Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that includes a number of risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance.

People with sleep apnea are more likely to have metabolic syndrome than people who do not have sleep apnea.

Vehicular accidents

People with sleep apnea are more likely to have vehicular accidents than people who do not have sleep apnea.

This is because sleep apnea can cause sleepiness and drowsiness during the day.

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Does sleep apnea affect blood pressure?

Sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure, a condition also known as hypertension.

High blood pressure occurs when the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries is too high.

This can damage the arteries and lead to health problems such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

When you have sleep apnea, your body is constantly trying to get more oxygen.

After you go to sleep, your blood pressure typically falls between 10-20% and this is called blood pressure dipping.

Those with sleep apnea may see their blood pressure dip less than 10% and this is called nondipping.

If you have nondipping blood pressure you are at an increased risk for cardiovascular problems and this extra work can lead to other health problems over time, including high blood pressure.

How is high blood pressure caused by sleep apnea?

When you don't sleep properly there is an extra strain on your heart and allows your sympathetic nervous system to go into overdrive.

The sympathetic nervous system produces responses to your "fight or flight" instinct and leads to higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, and the dilation of your pupils.

Every time you stop breathing because of sleep apnea your body produces more of these reactions which can also lead to you waking up, which only further exacerbates the problem by causing your sympathetic nervous system to produce even more of these responses.

Can treating sleep apnea help my blood pressure?

Yes, treating sleep apnea can help lower your blood pressure. By treating sleep apnea, you are able to get more restful sleep which can help reduce the stress on your body.

In addition, treating sleep apnea can help improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing other health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

What are the common treatments for sleep apnea?

There are a number of different treatments for sleep apnea. Typically, to be diagnosed with sleep apnea your doctor or sleep specialist will have to do a sleep study in a sleep lab.

If it is determined that you suffer from sleep apnea there are several treatment options available to you.

Some common treatments include:

CPAP or other airway machines

CPAP stands for constant positive airway pressure and is a machine that produces an airflow that helps open up your airways as you sleep.

These machines are the most common form of treatment for sleep apnea. It gives you this air through a mask that you wear while you sleep.

There are other air pressure machines used for sleep apnea including BiPAP, or bilevel positive airway pressure which means there is a different pressure when you breathe in or out, and APAP, or automatic positive airway pressure which adjusts the air pressure to how hard you are breathing.

Oral appliances

Oral appliances are devices that you wear in your mouth that help keep your airway open.

They do this by pushing your jaw and tongue forward.

Surgery

There are a number of different surgeries that can be done to help treat sleep apnea.

You might have surgery to remove the tonsils, adenoids, or excess soft tissue in the throat and nose. There is also a surgery to tighten the muscles in your airway.

Weight loss

If you are overweight, losing weight can help improve sleep apnea.

This is because when you lose weight, it reduces the amount of extra tissue around the back of your throat which can help to open up your airways.

Nerve stimulators

Nerve stimulators, such as the Inspire device, are small implants that are put in your chest.

These stimulators send a signal to your brain that helps keep your airway open as you sleep.

Other lifestyle changes

There are also a number of lifestyle changes that can help improve sleep apnea such as avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine before bed, sleeping on your side instead of your back, and eating healthy meals to help with weight loss.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, it is important to speak with your doctor. Your doctor can help determine if sleep apnea is the cause of your high blood pressure and recommend the best treatment for you.

Summary

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can cause high blood pressure. When you don't sleep properly, this puts extra strain on your heart and causes your sympathetic nervous system to go into overdrive.

This leads to higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils.

By treating sleep apnea, you are able to get more restful sleep which can help reduce the stress on your body.

In addition, treating sleep apnea can help improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing other health problems.

There are a number of different treatments for sleep apnea, including CPAP therapy, oral appliances, surgery, and weight loss.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, it is important to speak with your doctor, sleep specialist, or healthcare provider to determine if sleep apnea is the cause of your high blood pressure and recommend the best treatment for you.

References and Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836734/

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea/

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