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Can Lack of Sleep Cause Bradycardia?

written by: kristineb • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/30/2011

Bradycardia can be a potentially life threatening disorder. Can lack of sleep cause bradycardia? One of the leading causes of bradycardia is sleep apnea, so managing the condition is important.

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    The heart occasionally beats slower than normal. This slow heart beat is known as bradycardia, which can either be a serious problem or nothing to worry about. This happens when the heart's electrical impulses are interrupted. This interruption is attributed to one of many conditions or causes from eating disorders to congenital heart defects.

    Can lack of sleep cause bradycardia? While lack of sleep alone isn't enough to cause bradycardia, sleep apnea can be a factor that leads to bradycardia. Patients with sleep apnea often wake throughout the night because they stop breathing for a few moments. These patients also have an interrupted sleep schedule.

    For some people, bradycardia is only present during sleep apnea episodes. In fact, apnea is the most common cause of bradycardia. A study at the Herakloin University hospital in Greece found that 50 percent of patients with moderate or severe sleep apnea also had episodes of bradycardia.

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    Overview of Bradycardia

    Bradycardia is a heart rate under 60 beats per minute. However, bardycardia rarely presents symptoms unless the heart rate falls below 50 beats per minutes. Bradycardia in an infant occurs when the heart rate drops below 100 beats per minute. Besides sleep apnea, bradycardia is caused by drug abuse, thyroid problems and cardiac issues.

    Sometimes bradycardia doesn't cause any problems in the patient and no treatment is needed. Other times bradycardia can be quite dangerous causing fainting spells, cardiac arrest, shortness of breath and even death. Usually if no symptoms are present in a person suffering from bradycardia, no treatment is recommended.

    For patients with symptoms, sometimes medications and oxygen are used to control the bradycardia. Oxygen is an effective treatment because many of the symptoms of bradycardia are caused because the heart isn't pumping enough oxygen throughout the body. This is especially true of sleep apnea patients because oxygen is already cut off when the patient stops breathing during apnea spells. Many people that suffer from sleep apnea are prescribed oxygen masks to correct the problem.

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    Can Lack of Sleep Cause Bradycardia?

    If your doctor suspects you suffer from sleep apnea-induced bradycardia, a sleep test (polysomnography) will most likely be ordered. This test requires you to spend the night in a sleep lab where you're hooked up to monitors checking your brain waves, muscle movement, heart rate, pulse, and oxygen saturation. A lab tech will also observe your sleep through a camera.

    For patients suffering from bradycardia because of lack of oxygen during sleep apnea episodes, the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine can stop the episodes.Patients wear a mask hooked to a machine that supplies oxygen and opens the airways. The amount of oxygen supplied varies by the user's needs.

    While lack of sleep alone doesn't cause bradycardia, lack of sleep caused by sleep apnea episodes is a leading cause of bradycardia. With the help of a doctor, a patient can overcome the bradycardia and live a normal lifestyle.