A 70 year-old patient at Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital who was finding it difficult to sleep has been diagnosed as suffering from from sleep apnea, an ailment caused by heart failure, Lin Chia-mo (林嘉謨), chief director of the hospital’s Sleep Research Center, said.
Lin said the patient — with a medical history of hypertension, cardiomegaly and pleural effusion — had complained about his quality of sleep for many years and was moved on several occasions to the intensive care unit for heart failure.
As hypertension requires the heart to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body, the patient’s cardiomegaly and hypertension conditions can sometimes prompt heart failure, a condition where the heart is unable to pump hard enough to circulate blood which causes shortness of breath, Lin said.
Coupled with sleep apnea — a disorder in which breathing completely stops or is intermittent for periods of about 10 to 30 seconds — the patient can only ever get a light sleep instead of the deep sleep which is necessary for the body to fully restore energy, Lin said.
“We spend roughly one third of our lives asleep and during that time our bodily functions — those which are damaged, hurt or impaired — slowly heal, and it also helps to soothe and relax the sympathetic nervous system,” Lin said, adding that quality sleep was very important for people.
The sympathetic nervous system is almost constantly active to provide homeostasis, which regulates the human body systems and is best-known for governing neuronal and hormonal stress response which is termed the “fight-or-flight instinct.”
“After being refered to the center, we found that the patient had complications connected to his sleep apnea syndrome and after fitting him with a continuous positive airway pressure device the patient’s sleep quality has not only improved, but his cardiomegaly and pleural effusion conditions have also been ameliorated,” Lin said.
Commenting on patients with less-than-standard cardiopulmonary functions, or patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pectus carinatum or heart failure, Lin said sedatives doled out by some clinics would not necessarily help as the quality of their sleep stems from the various illnesses from which they are suffering.
COPD is one of the most commonly seen lung diseases and results in narrowing of the airways, which limits the flow of air to the lungs.
Pectus carinatum, also known as “pigeon chest,” is a pectus disorder that manifests itself in an overgrowth of cartilage which causes the chest to protrude outwards — similar to the physiology of a pigeon. The disorder causes the patient to exert more effort to draw breath during exercise and also causes them to tire faster.