Richard G. Petty, MD

Breathing Problems During Sleep and the Heart

We have talked about the importance of heart rate variability (HRV), which reflects the activity of many critical bodily functions. HRV is the result of a subtle interplay between the heart and the nervous system, and abnormalities in HRV may be an early warning of severe illness and even of death.

There are many reasons why peoples’ breathing can become disturbed during the night, and it is essential to be sure that we are treating the right thing.

In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) the body stops breathing during sleep. The most common reason for OSA is swelling of the tissues at the back of the throat that then block the airway.

In central sleep apnea (CSA) is a breathing decreases or stops during sleep. It may occur as a result of a problem in the sleep centers in the brain, and/or the nerves supplying the heart. It usually follows a cycle, with people breathing normally for a while and then slowing or stopping altogether.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) that provides a steady stream of pressurized air is often the best treatment for sleep apnea.

There is a close relationship between breathing and the heart, and new research from the Alfred Hospital and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia has looked at a sleep-related breathing disorder that is common in heart failure, and increases HRV.

The researchers looked at the breathing patterns of 21 patients with heart failure who had sleep-related breathing disorder.

They found that as people transitioned from stable breathing to a sleep-related breathing disorder, there was an associated increase in HRV.

On the other hand, people with central sleep apnea (CSA) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) produce different patterns of HRV, suggesting that they each involve different mechanisms in the heart and the brain.

This may sound esoteric, but it is not.

Breathing problems during sleep are common and so is heart failure. Unfortunately heart failure carries a high mortality rate, and it is very valuable to have simple tests to guide us to give the correct treatment.

Simply measuring HRV during sleep will give us an idea about whether or not a person with heart failure is stable, or if we need to change treatments before he or she starts getting symptoms.

“All the energy that is used in the creation of every cell in the universe is on that breath that you are breathing in.”
–George King (English Spiritual Teacher, Writer and Founder of the Aetherius Society, 1919-1997)

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.”
–Sanskrit Proverb

“There is one human activity which is continuous, rhythmic, natural, easy, and pleasant. It is breathing. We may take advantage of its existence by combining it with a simple exercise to bring about a kind of meditation which will possess all these four mentioned attributes. The exercise is merely to repeat one word silently on the inhalation and another word on the exhalation. The two words must be such that they join together to make a suitable spiritual phrase or name. Here is one useful example: “God Is.”
–Paul Brunton (a.k.a. Raphael Hurst, English Philosopher, Traveler, Spiritual Teacher and Author, 1898-1981)

“You know that our breathing is the inhaling and exhaling of air. The organ that serves for this is the lungs that lie round the heart, so that the air passing through them thereby envelops the heart. Thus breathing is a natural way to the heart. And so, having collected your mind within you, lead it into the channel of breathing through which air reaches the heart and, together with this inhaled air, force your mind to descend into the heart and to remain there.”
— Nicephorus the Solitary (Calabrian Christian Mystic and Monk on Mount Athos, c.1250-1300)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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