Sleep apnea, or the blockage of the upper airway during sleep, is a surprisingly common problem. In fact, the American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 22 million Americans deal with this condition, with the vast majority of cases remaining undiagnosed — including those who suffer from severe symptoms.
Though there are several types of sleep apnea, the most common are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea, the throat muscles relax while you’re asleep, closing off the airways and cutting off your oxygen supply. With central sleep apnea, the problem is caused by the brain’s failure to send the right signals to breathing-related muscles.
Sleep apnea is most frequently characterized by persistent snoring, restless sleep, and waking up gasping for breath. Individuals who suffer from this condition often feel tired, even after getting the seven to nine hours of rest recommended by physicians.
Such symptoms may seem like little more than a minor inconvenience, causing you to discount questions like “Is sleep apnea dangerous?” Over the long term, however, those sleepless nights add up to serious health consequences — including conditions that could bring about an early death.
So why is sleep apnea dangerous? Here’s a closer look at the hidden dangers of sleep apnea, as well as what you can do to address these concerns to prevent future problems.
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea
1. High Blood Pressure
Because sleep apnea results in a sudden decrease in oxygen, it has a direct impact on your blood oxygen level. This is because your cardiovascular system is forced to work harder to make up for the lack of oxygen, which increases strain and blood pressure.
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is a serious condition that is often labeled “the silent killer” because it has no easily noticeable symptoms. Instead, as heightened blood pressure causes gradual damage to the body’s circulatory system, the risk for a heart attack or stroke increases, without the afflicted individual noticing that anything is amiss.
Hypertension is typically diagnosed whenever an individual’s blood pressure reading is higher than 130/80. In especially severe cases, blood pressure may even be as high as 180/120. Though this condition may be hard to detect on your own, it is thankfully quite easily diagnosed with a simple blood pressure check — a standard part of your yearly physical.
So is sleep apnea dangerous? In this case, a recurring loss of oxygen during sleep could eventually lead to a serious medical emergency.
2. Type 2 Diabetes
Individuals who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This is because the condition alters the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, while simultaneously increasing insulin resistance. As a result, the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes dramatically rises.
Type 2 diabetes prevents the body from using insulin properly, which keeps your body from regulating blood glucose levels on its own. Though diabetes can be treated with medications and lifestyle changes, it can also contribute to a wide range of serious health complications.
Type 2 diabetes has been connected with an increased risk of nerve damage (or neuropathy), high blood pressure, kidney disease, skin infections, and glaucoma. Such conditions can greatly impact an individual’s quality of life and lead to early death, proving that the answer to “Is sleep apnea dangerous?” is a resounding yes.
It is also worth noting that obese individuals are at an even greater risk, as obesity is considered a risk factor for both sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes. Taking strides to lose excess weight can go a long way in staving off this serious health problem.
3. Heart Disease
Those wondering “Is sleep apnea dangerous?” should already have a clear idea that this condition can have a direct impact on their heart health — and sure enough, the same issues that contribute to high blood pressure can eventually lead to heart disease if left untreated.
Heart disease is used to describe a wide range of issues that can occur within the body, including reduced blood flow (peripheral artery disease), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), or even stroke or heart attack.
Such conditions prove that the long-term effects of sleep apnea can be deadly. The CDC estimates that over 700,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack each year, while approximately 610,000 die as a result of heart disease. Put in perspective, this number represents nearly 25 percent of all deaths that occur in the country each year.
While healthy lifestyle changes (particularly changes to diet and participating in cardiovascular exercise) can decrease one’s risk of heart disease, those suffering from sleep apnea would be wise to consider how their poor sleep is affecting their overall well-being.
4. Weight Gain
The connection between sleep apnea and an unhealthy weight could be described as a vicious cycle. So how is sleep apnea dangerous in this situation? Low-quality sleep often leads to weight gain. At the same time, a higher weight can increase one’s risk for ever-worsening sleep apnea.
Indeed, studies have shown that “insufficient sleep [reduces] dietary restraint and [leads] to weight gain.” In other words, a lack of sleep doesn’t directly cause weight gain. However, when we get less sleep than our bodies need, our hormone production is thrown off balance. Our bodies make too much of some hormones and too little of others. We try to make up the difference by eating more than we should, resulting in unhealthy weight gain.
In addition to increasing the likelihood that one’s sleep apnea will become even worse, obesity greatly increases the risk of contracting several other deadly conditions. In addition to being at a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, obese individuals are also more likely to develop osteoarthritis, depression, and certain types of cancer.
Excess weight may not seem like an immediate confirmation of the question “Is sleep apnea dangerous?”, but over time, its side effects can dramatically reduce one’s quality of life.
5. Dangerous Fatigue
One of the most immediately apparent indicators that you might be suffering from sleep apnea is a feeling of fatigue, even after you’ve had what seems to be a full night’s rest. The thing is, the number of hours you sleep isn’t the only factor that allows you to feel well-rested. For your sleep to have a positive impact, it needs to be “quality sleep,” in which your body goes through several sleep cycles.
When your sleep cycles are interrupted due to sleep apnea, you’ll likely still feel drowsy in the morning and throughout the rest of the day. Not surprisingly, this makes it much harder to stay awake through the entire day, which can quickly turn dangerous.
Perhaps the time when fatigue most clearly provides the answer to “Is sleep apnea dangerous?” is when you get behind the wheel. When you are tired, your reaction time increases and you have a harder time focusing on the road and making safe decisions — all of which greatly increases the risk of an accident. Drowsy driving was connected with over 72,000 car crashes in 2013 alone.
Fatigue has also been found to increase one’s risk of getting injured while on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that the rate of workplace accidents increases by 18 percent during evening shifts and by 30 percent during night shifts, all as a result of fatigue.
Even if you work a day shift, a lack of quality sleep can increase the likelihood of making a costly error that results in injury to yourself or others. Even if you avoid a serious physical accident, working while exhausted due to sleep apnea will only hurt your overall performance — making it that much harder to hold on to your job.
6. Poor Overall Long-Term Health
“Is sleep apnea dangerous?” may sound like a silly question in the short-term. Other than fatigue, you likely won’t experience any serious consequences right away. But the long-term effects of sleep apnea prove that this condition should never be overlooked.
The previously mentioned side effects of sleep apnea may take time to develop, but there is no denying that they can significantly reduce one’s quality of life, even contributing to an early death. These are far from the only consequences of persistent poor sleep.
Sleep apnea and its associated side effects can also impact your mental and emotional well-being. In fact, one study found that individuals who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, 53.9 percent experience anxiety, while 46.1 percent show symptoms of depression. These mental health disorders can make it hard to function in day to day life. Depression has been found to damage relationships, increase one’s risk of substance abuse, and further disrupt sleep patterns.
Sleep apnea has also been connected to an increased frequency of headaches and worsening symptoms for those who struggle with ADHD and other learning disorders. A lack of sleep causes performance to decline in school or work, which can further damage an individual’s self-esteem and sense of well-being.
When asking yourself “Is sleep apnea dangerous?”, it is essential to realize that physical health problems aren’t the only long-term consequences you could face. If left untreated, sleep apnea could prove just as dangerous to your mental health as well.
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
If you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea, reading about these serious consequences can be understandably scary. Thankfully, this condition can be diagnosed and treated with relative ease, allowing you to improve your sleep quality and avoid these conditions.
Though you should take other steps to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, taking direct action to address your sleep apnea is an important first step for your future.
Always See a Doctor
If you’re concerned about your low-quality sleep, you should start by visiting with your physician. Sharing your symptoms with a medical professional will allow them to make an informed evaluation and decide if additional testing is needed to make a diagnosis. Your doctor can also help you understand the answers to “Is sleep apnea dangerous?” for your individual situation.
In many cases, patients who seem to be suffering from sleep apnea will be referred to a specialized sleep disorder center, where tests of what happens to your body during sleep will be performed. Such tests may be performed at the center or at home, where everything from blood oxygen level and breathing patterns to lung and brain activity may be tested.
Based on these results, the specialist will recommend follow-up steps. Individuals with milder forms of sleep apnea may be able to resolve their problems simply by addressing their lifestyle risk factors (such as being overweight).
For many others, particularly those who deal with moderate or severe sleep apnea, a CPAP machine will likely be the best option.
The First Line of Defense is a CPAP Machine
A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is one of the most commonly recommended treatments for addressing sleep apnea, and for good reason. These machines involve the placement of a specialized mask over your mouth and nose. The machine then delivers continuous air pressure to your body, ensuring that there is always enough air pressure to keep the airways open.
Not only does this prevent sleep apnea itself; it also helps eliminate snoring. By combining the use of a CPAP machine with other lifestyle changes, you can dramatically improve your quality of sleep and avoid the long-term health consequences of this condition. Here at Help Medical Supplies, we offer a wide variety of CPAP bundles and other supplies to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Is sleep apnea dangerous? Absolutely. But while low-quality sleep can eventually cause you to experience everything from depression to a heart attack, it is important to keep in mind that this condition can be overcome. By seeking out appropriate medical support and using a CPAP machine to regulate your nighttime breathing, you can regain control of your health and avoid such symptoms entirely.A good night’s sleep isn’t as far off as you might think. If you are concerned that you might be suffering from sleep apnea, reach out to your doctor so you can get a diagnosis and start receiving the help you need. It just might add several years back to your life.