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30th January 2020 Atrial Fibrillation

Managing sleep to combat deadly heart conditions


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common heart condition which causes the heart to beat out of rhythm, affecting more than 33.5 million people globally.

Exciting new research is set to improve the outlook for patients suffering from a common heart disorder by treating their quality of sleep.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common heart condition which causes the heart to beat out of rhythm, affecting more than 33.5 million people globally.

Did you know there is a link between AF and obstructive sleep apnoea?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is four times more common among patients with AF than those without, despite many AF sufferers not reporting symptoms of sleep apnoea such as daytime sleepiness.

New research being undertaken by cardiologist Dr Dominik Linz through the Royal Adelaide Hospital and University of Adelaide, seeks to clarify the link between sleep apnoea and AF to improve outcomes for patients.

Dr Linz said early findings saw treating sleep apnoea via a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask improved patients’ AF symptoms by up to 40 per cent.

“A CPAP mask is commonly used when treating obstructive sleep apnoea, which involves the patient wearing a hose and mask or nosepiece to deliver constant and steady air pressure while sleeping,” Dr Linz said.

“When a CPAP mask is worn, it can reduce the risk of people acquiring AF by 40 per cent.

“For AF patients who had undergone a catheter ablation (a procedure to stop abnormal electrical signals in heart tissue), wearing the mask saw the risk of AF recurring reduced by 30 to 40 per cent.

“The CPAP machine was also found to reduce blood pressure and help to control drug resistant hypertension.

“And importantly, patients who start this treatment say they inexplicably felt better, even though they didn’t indicate they had daytime sleepiness before.”

Future research

Given AF is the underlying cause of a third of all strokes, this ground-breaking research could save the lives of many people suffering from AF.

Dr Linz is planning to build on these findings in a study with 800 AF patients, thanks to funding from The Hospital Research Foundation.

“Patients will undergo overnight sleep studies where we’ll measure the arrhythmogenic electrophysiological changes.

“We aim to identify the mechanisms behind how sleep apnoea leads to AF in patients and ways to better determine sleep apnoea severity and guide treatment.

“We hope it will translate to better individualised treatment strategies of obstructive sleep apnoea in patients with AF.”

Ideal sleep count

In addition, Dr Linz’s insights have found the amount of sleep a patient gets directly impacts their heart health. He said the ideal amount of sleep was 6-8 hours – but nothing more or less!

“Too little or too much sleep appears to increase the risk of getting cardiac problems,” he said.

“Oversleeping is just as bad as not getting enough sleep.

“Napping appears to be fine, but only if you’ve had less than six hours. Don’t nap if you have had the ideal amount of 6-8 hours or more.”