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5 Ways to Ensure You Don't Die in Your Sleep

Here's what to watch for.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Film fans everywhere were shocked by the recent death of actor Ray Liotta, who reportedly died in his sleep on May 26 at the age of 67. This comes a few months after comedian Bob Saget, 65, died from a head injury while he was sleeping. While passing away during sleep seems peaceful and preferable to many, when it happens to people in their 60s (relatively young these days), it can seem scary. Although we don't know Liotta's cause of death, experts say 90% of sudden, unexpected deaths at night are caused by cardiac arrest. Here's how to avoid that, if at all possible. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Be Vigilant About Medications

closeup woman taking high blood pressure medication
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People who have heart and lung disease and who take medication that affects the brain (including sedatives, antidepressants or pain medicine) have the greatest risk of dying in their sleep, Dr. Sumeet Chugh, medical director of Cedars-Sinai's Heart Rhythm Center, told the Wall Street Journal recently. He advised people in that group talk to their doctors about reducing risk. "Talk to your physicians again and say, 'Listen, do I need this extra sedative? Maybe I can try to manage with one instead of two.'" Even if that doesn't apply to you, being aware of potential interactions between medications, not to mention alcohol and other substances, is increasingly important as you get older.

2

Be Aware of Sleep Apnea Symptoms

middle aged man in gray shirt and sleep mask sleeping with mouth open
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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes people to stop breathing for periods during sleep as soft tissues collapse into the airway. The body wakes up slightly so breathing can resume, repeating the process several times a night. If it sounds exhausting, your body agrees: Sleep apnea can raise the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest. The condition is treatable, but experts say 80 to 90 percent of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. The prime symptom: Snoring. If you do it chronically, consult your doctor.

3

Don't Ignore Chest Pain

Athlete man having pain in the chest due to heart disease.
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Chest pain isn't like a headache or hangover—trying to "sleep it off" could be a fatal mistake. Experts say that if you experience even mild discomfort, pressure, tightness or squeezing in the chest area; pain in the neck, jaw, back or shoulders; shortness of breath; or lightheadedness, it could be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 immediately. 

4

Be Vigilant About Heart Health

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Regular physical exams will keep you up-to-date on your heart health. Many heart problems or signs of heart disease can be identified with a routine EKG. Year round, practicing heart-healthy habits—eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and drinking alcohol only in moderation—can go a long way.

4

Get Enough Quality Sleep

woman sleeping on stomach
Sleep isn't a health risk—far from. Not getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis has been linked with a variety of health problems, from obesity and diabetes to dementia and heart disease. Last month, scientists said they've determined the ideal amount of sleep for people in middle and old age: Seven hours a night. Getting six hours or less has been associated with cardiovascular disease. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael