The importance of effective sleep can’t be underestimated. Fully one-third of the human condition involves the recovery period that sleep grants. Nearly everyone is familiar with the inconvenience of an occasional poor night’s sleep. Over 18 million Americans, however, may suffer from a chronic sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea.
When sleep apnea interferes with your rest, it’s more than simply an inconvenience. Left untreated, sleep apnea can be a multi-faceted threat to your health. Chronic fatigue is only the beginning. Today, I examine some of the dangers you face if you leave sleep apnea untreated. An estimated 50% of those who have sleep apnea aren’t aware
Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue of your palate and throat relax sufficiently as you sleep to collapse and interfere with breathing. A major cause of snoring, this tissue collapse advances to the point that you stop breathing. Your brain then sends a signal for you to wake sufficiently to restart your breathing. Though you may not be aware of this waking, it’s enough to disturb the patterns of restful sleep that your body needs.
Sleep disorders are closely associated with depression for many people, and though sleep apnea doesn’t cause depression directly, it can aggravate pre-existing depression. Just as your body needs sleep time to recover, so, too, your brain needs the rest provided by the three stages of sleep.
It’s estimated that more than 80% of type 2 diabetics may also have sleep apnea. Since obesity raises the risk of both conditions, there’s thought to be a cause-and-effect relationship between sleep apnea and diabetes, though it hasn’t yet been conclusively shown. Sleep disorders can affect the way your body uses insulin, the primary condition in type 2 diabetes.
Your chance of a heart attack due to heart disease climbs if you have sleep apnea. A consistent flow of oxygen helps your body control the circulatory system, so when sleep apnea introduces interruptions to the cardiopulmonary process, this puts stress on the normal operation of your heart. You may also experience irregular heartbeat conditions, such as atrial fibrillation.
High blood pressure
When your body’s cells aren’t receiving sufficient oxygen, your heart pumps harder to deliver enough oxygenated blood. Therefore, when sleep apnea compromises your breathing, there may not be sufficient oxygen transfer in the lungs to keep your blood pressure in the normal range. If you already have high blood pressure, sleep apnea can make it worse.
Sleep apnea may first appear after a stroke, and it can often contribute to a first-time stroke. The low oxygen levels that cause other sleep apnea complications also raise your risk of stroke. Since heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes each raise the risk of stroke, any of these combined with sleep apnea can take that risk to a dangerous level.
Treating sleep apnea
The first step in treating sleep apnea is determining that you have the condition. Many people remain untreated because they are unaware sleep apnea is occurring. If you snore, particularly loudly, or your partner has noticed interruptions in breathing while you’re asleep, and these are combined with other symptoms such as fatigue, daytime sleepiness, insomnia, or headaches in the morning, call my office, or request an appointment online today. I’ll do a physical examination and sleep evaluation to determine the next steps you need to reduce the health dangers that sleep apnea may present.