5 Ways to Make Sure You Don't Die in Your Sleep
The death of comedian Bob Saget—which apparently came in his sleep after a severe head injury—has shed light on a rare but potentially preventable phenomenon. How often do people die in their sleep, why, and how can it be avoided? Dr. Sumeet Chugh, medical director of Cedars-Sinai's Heart Rhythm Center, told the Wall Street Journal that 90% of sudden, unexpected deaths at night are caused by cardiac arrest. Other treatable or preventable situations also contribute. Here's what you can do to avoid dying in your sleep, 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.
Be Aware of Sleep Apnea Symptoms
A condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes people to stop breathing for periods during sleep as soft tissues collapse into the airway. The body then slightly wakes up to resume breathing. That process can happen several times a night. Not only does that prevent you from getting a good night's sleep, it raises the risk of heart disease, dementia, and sudden cardiac arrest. The condition is treatable (a CPAP mask keeps your airway open as you sleep), but experts say 80 to 90 percent of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. One symptom: Snoring. If your bedmate says you snore, ask your doctor if diagnostic testing is a good idea.
Don't Ignore a Head Injury
Saget's untimely death is an unfortunate reminder that head injuries can be more serious than they seem. If you've hit your head, don't just ignore it. "It's really critical to take head injury very seriously," said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. "Use an abundance of caution and seek medical care as soon as possible — especially if the person who fell is older, on blood thinners, or taking medications that might make someone sleepier."
"Go to the ER if you have symptoms like blurred vision, severe headache, severe nausea or vomiting, or stroke-like symptoms," she advised. "And make sure to tell someone that you fell, so that they can keep checking on you."
Don't Ignore Chest Pain
Everyone knows that chest pain is a prime heart attack symptom, but in the moment, it might be chalked up to heartburn or strain. 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 and warrants a call to 911.
Mind Your Medications
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, Chugh told the Wall Street Journal, calling that situation a "triple whammy." 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.'"
Be Vigilant About Heart Health
Getting regular physical exams can help your doctor keep tabs on your heart health. Many problems can be identified with a routine EKG, which records electrical activity in the heart and can point up signs of heart disease. Good habits like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and drinking alcohol only in moderation can go a long way toward keeping your heart healthy.
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