Heart Day: How Sleep Plays a Role in Congenital Heart Disease

Patient Expert

For several years, February 14 has been designated Congenital Heart Defect Day. And what better day could there be than Valentines Day, with its ever-present abundance of hearts to remind us just how important the heart is?

What does this have to do with sleep disorders? Well, directly, not much, but indirectly sleep is involved on several fronts.

For instance, childhood sleep is often troubled by terrifying nightmares and night terrors where he or she wakes up with a pounding heart. Sleep walking is another danger. A fall, or waking up in a strange place can be a frightening experience that can put a strain on the heart. Imagine how much worse this is if that child is the victim of congenital heart disease.

Having a child with this disorder also puts a strain on the parent. Sleep is difficult when a person is worried about a child.

Check out this list of symptoms from  the Congenital Heart information page. Note how many involve sleep in one way or another:

  • Tires easily during feeding (i.e. falls asleep before feeding finishes
  • Sweating around the head, especially during feeding
  • Fast breathing when at rest or sleeping
  • Pale or bluish skin color
  • Poor weight gain
  • Sleeps a lot - not playful or curious for any length of time
  • Puffy face, hands, and/or feet
  • Often irritable, difficult to console

Some children with CHDs may not have any symptoms until later in childhood. Things to look for include:

  • Gets out of breath during play
  • Difficulty "keeping up" with playmates
  • Tiires easily/sleeps a lot
  • Change in color during active play or sports (looks pale or has a bluish tint around mouth and nose)
  • Frequent colds and respiratory illnesses
  • Slow growth and weight gain/poor appetite
  • Complains of chest pain and/or heart pounding

What is congenital heart disease? A Day for Hearts gives us this definition:

CONGENITAL HEART DISEASE ..... a chilling phrase; a lethal constellation of birth defects of the heart that affect millions of newborn infants and children; a killer that claims thousands of lives every year.

CHD is a growing problem that is often neglected, costly, long term and silent.   More research into this child killer is desperately needed. The causes are many and varied, from having a rubella infection (German measles) during the pregnancy to fetal alcohol syndrome to the use of prescription drugs including   thalidomide and lithium.   Drug abuse of any kind can also lead to this problem.

Designating February 14 as a Day for Hearts is a start, but more awareness is needed.  CHIN tells us that: "An international coalition of families, individuals, non-profit organizations, support groups, and health professionals participate in a campaign to increase public awareness of Congenital Heart Defects and Childhood Heart Disease."