SANJAY PATEL, MD: People who sleep too long tend to weigh more than people who sleep less. They tend to smoke more. They tend to drink more alcohol. They tend to exercise less. And so all of these are possible reasons for why people who sleep nine or ten hours a night have more heart disease, but we're just not sure.
ANNOUNCER: Still researchers can't be sure if poor sleep is the cause of heart problems or just an early sign of the disease. Yet the length of sleep may just be part of the equation. Experts have identified another potential problem: sleep apnea.
DAVID P. WHITE, MD: Sleep apnea is a condition that's characterized by a collapse of the airway when you go to sleep, meaning the airway behind the tongue, the uvula, that thing that hangs in the back of your throat, and the soft palate basically collapses in these individuals when they go to sleep, such that they can't breathe. And so, they go to sleep, the airway collapse; they transiently arouse, open up the airway, take three or four breaths, and go back to sleep and do it again.
ANNOUNCER: This kind of sleep disturbance strains the body and the heart
DAVID P. WHITE, MD: There's substantial literature suggesting that the recurrent hypoxia, falls in oxygen, that occur and the elevations in carbon dioxide, contribute to the development of heart disease. It clearly contributes to the development of high blood pressure, and at least cross-sectionally, it leads to the development of heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure, as well.
ANNOUNCER: For people who already have a heart condition, good sleep is yet another important factor in trying to avoid another occurrence of heart problems.
SANJAY PATEL, MD: It would seem from all the studies that are know that getting a good night's sleep is just as important as many of the other things that doctors now recommend for people who have heart disease to prevent a second heart attack or worsening of their heart disease.
ANNOUNCER: While research into the link between sleep and heart disease has many unanswered questions, what's clear is that sleep is an element in keeping both body and mind alert and healthy.
DAVID P. WHITE, MD: There's evolving evidence that getting a reasonable quantity of good quality sleep is important in maintaining health and particularly heart health.