Find over 200 print-friendly fact sheets about heart disease and related health topics.
Do you know your risk for heart disease? Learn what increases our cardiovascular risk and how we can reduce or control risk factors that we may have.
Can the cardiovascular system be damaged as a result of shock when one awakens frightened from a nightmare?
I wouldn’t worry about being startled or frightened to death in your sleep. While it’s true that your body responds to fear by pumping out stress hormones like adrenaline, it does this while you are awake too, and we don’t often see people frightened to death at surprise parties or scary movies. If you have a healthy, structurally normal heart I wouldn’t worry about this at all. If you have a history of serious heart problems, especially if you’ve had a heart attack, congestive heart failure, or a history of abnormal heart rhythms, then I’d suggest discussing your risk of sudden death (whether awake or asleep) with your heart doctor, who knows your specific situation and can hopefully reassure you.
Sleep in general is very important to your health, and studies have shown that not enough or poor quality sleep is associated with problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A particularly dangerous condition that can affect sleep is called obstructive sleep apnea, where your air supply intermittently gets cut off while you sleep, and you wake up gasping for breath. This can have a serious harmful impact on your health, and if you or anyone you know has a history of heavy snoring or stops breathing at night, they should bring that up to their doctor and perhaps get tested.
Sandeep Das, MD, MPH, FACC
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