How Sleep Apnea Affects Blood Pressure

Sleep is essential for the mind and body as it is a restorative process. However, if you are suffering from sleep apnea, you probably are not getting enough sleep at night. Without adequate and sufficient sleep, you are more prone to heart complications such as heart attacks and stroke. Studies show that adults who get less than six hours of sleep at night are at a higher risk of getting heart attacks than people who sleep for eight hours. This is a sleeping disorder where a person’s breathing starts and stops repeatedly.

Types of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous disorder because it can lead to other health conditions. The following are the common types:

Central sleep apnea

This type of sleep apnea is less common, and it occurs when your brain does not send signals to your breathing muscles. For a short period, your body makes no effort to breathe, and you will startle from your sleep due to shortness of breath. Throughout the night, you will have trouble staying asleep or even going to sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea

It is the most common type of sleep apnea, and it occurs when muscles in the throat relax closing or narrowing your airway. When you breathe in, air cannot go through to your brain, causing insufficient oxygen in the brain. For a brief moment, your brain rouses because it senses you cannot breathe. The arousing ensures you open up your airway. The brain awakening is extremely short; you can hardly recall it. This pattern repeatedly occurs throughout the night affecting your sleep.

Complex sleep apnea

It is less common, and it is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.


It is essential to visit a doctor if you think you have sleep apnea. A doctor will help in diagnosing you and treating sleep apnea to ease its symptoms and prevent further health complications. The following are some symptoms to watch out for if you think you have sleep apnea.

  • Snoring and snorting
  • Shortness of breath as you sleep
  • Feeling tired in the morning after a full night’s sleep
  • Gasps
  • Insomnia
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Headaches in the morning

Sleep apnea and blood pressure

Researchers say that sleep apnea affects the ability of the body to regulate blood pressure. This is common with obstructive sleep apnea that causes a fall in oxygen levels in the brain. When oxygen levels fall, brain receptors are triggered. The receptors then send a signal to the blood vessels to increase the oxygen available to the brain and heart for proper functioning. This results in an increased blood flow that puts a lot of pressure to the blood vessels. This elevates the blood pressure levels, and it stresses the cardiovascular system.

When you have sleep apnea, the body is unable to regulate its blood pressure because of the fluctuating oxygen. These effects do not happen over time but can happen within a single day of experiencing sleep apnea. The biological sensors that are responsible for regulating the blood pressure are compromised, and they can no longer function properly. The stress that is put on your cardiovascular system not only leads to hypertension but also abnormal heartbeats and recurrent heart strokes. The flow of blood to your legs is also affected.

At times when the blood pressure is elevated at night, it remains raised during the day even when breathing is normal. In the end, if the sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to death. This is because of the irregular heartbeat caused by insufficient oxygen in the brain.

Treating hypertension caused by sleep apnea

Making lifestyle changes cannot treat hypertension that is caused by sleep apnea. This is only effective when obesity and unhealthy eating habits cause high blood pressure. The root cause of the issue a need to be addressed, which is sleep apnea. The treatments for sleep apnea vary depending on its intensity. If you have mild sleep apnea, your doctor will recommend using certain devices to open up your blocked airway or treating nasal allergies. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is an efficient device to deliver air pressure as you sleep.

However, for obstructive sleep apnea that is elevating your blood pressure levels, you may need surgery. Some of the surgical options available to return your blood pressure levels to normal include tissue removal, jaw repositioning, tissue shrinkage, nerve stimulation, and implants. Your doctor will go over with you the different surgical options before settling on one that eases the symptoms of your sleep apnea. All these surgeries are aimed at clearing and enlarging your airway so you can breathe better at night.

Bottom Line

Many people today suffer from sleep apnea and do not know it. If you have any of the symptoms above, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor for proper diagnosis. Do not ignore the symptoms of sleep apnea because they can adversely affect the health of your heart. In the meantime, you can avoid sleep apnea by losing excess weight, avoiding alcohol, avoiding sleeping pills, and sleeping on your side rather than your back. All these compromise your airways and result in snoring and gasping for air at night.