The Effects Of Sleep Apnea – Sleep Interrupted

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After experiencing a poor night’s sleep, even people with very sedentary day jobs will suffer from difficulties when trying to concentrate. Lack of sleep is known to temporarily lower IQ and cumulative sleep deprivation quickly brings feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. While many of us will have occasional interruptions to our nightly rest and shift workers may have greater difficulties getting enough good sleep, we generally get enough sleep to avoid feeling ill.

However, tossing, turning and waking up are not the only symptoms of a poor night’s sleep. Likewise, exhaustion is not the only result that can come from not sleeping well. For those people who suffer from sleep apnea, a form of sleep disturbance, the risks of numerous health problems are significantly increased.

Sleep apnea occurs when a sleeping individual stops breathing for more than ten seconds and the level of oxygen in their blood drops by more than 3 or 4%. In some cases, these pauses in breathing can occur several hundred times each night. This lack of breathing is usually also associated with some level of mental arousal. However, the level of brain stimulation is usually not enough for the person to be awakened or for them to know that breathing difficulties have occurred.

For people with sleep apnea, breathing can be interrupted by two main causes. One form of sleep apnea is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and results from physical obstruction of the airway. The second form, called Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) occurs when the body does not make the effort to pull air into the lungs. These two forms of apnea may also occur simultaneously.

The numbers of people suffering from sleep apnea are not well known in many countries due to lack of diagnoses, but in the US, roughly 12 million people are affected and it is estimated that in general, 4% of middle aged men and 2% of middle aged women have the disorder.

The condition has been found to be far more common in those who are overweight and obese than in the regular population. As well, research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has determined that the severity of sleep apnea is related to the level of obesity with heavier patients having worse symptoms. In related efforts, research conducted at the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland has determined that losing weight can significantly reduce the severity of sleep apnea.

In addition to obesity, asthma has also been found to increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. In a study at the University of Cincinnati, researchers found that women with asthma were twice as likely to suffer from sleep apnea than those without asthma.

Also significant is research from the Baylor College of Medicine where researchers found that 25% of those who grind their teeth while sleeping had sleep apnea.

Regardless of the cause, many of those affected by sleep apnea will endure years of fatigue and persistent sleepiness without knowing that they have a more serious health problem. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness means that these individuals are unnecessarily at risk from a number of medical conditions.

Separate studies from two universities have found that the condition increases the risks of heart disease and heart attack. Research from Emory University found that the decreases in blood oxygen levels cause high blood pressure that lead to heart conditions and risk of stroke. At Yale University, analysis determined that sleep apnea increased the risks of heart attack by 30% over the 5-year study period.

While affecting the heart, these low blood oxygen levels also cause effects in the brain. Research from Showa University School of Medicine found that patients with severe forms of sleep apnea had damage from mini strokes in the brain caused by insufficient oxygen. These damaged areas were counted using medical imaging systems. In patients with severe sleep apnea, the number of areas with mini stroke damage was more than 3 times the number than in the brains of obese patients without the condition.

Related to the problems in the circulatory system, another area of risk associated with the condition is the development of vision problems. Research from the Mayo Clinic has found that Glaucoma or permanent damage to the optic nerve may occur due to sleep apnea. The low levels of oxygen in the blood can also lead to damage and death of other nerves in the eye with the result being various forms of vision loss.

The risks do not stop with the circulatory system, however. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center have found that in patients who are already significantly obese, the low levels of blood oxygen stress the liver and contribute to liver disease.

In other research, scientists from Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine found that the level of gray matter in the brains of those with sleep apnea was less than in people without the condition. Further research is required to find out whether sleep apnea causes or is caused by the lower gray matter quantities. In any case, changes in the brain are significant.

Lastly, separate research conducted at Temple University and the University of Chicago has found that those with Type 2 Diabetes have a chance of suffering from sleep apnea that exceeds 80%. Though uncertain at this time, researchers suggest that sleep apnea is making the diabetes worse for these patients.

Overall, while sleep apnea may not seem to be significant at first glance, its cumulative effects on the body are considerable. Because of this, it is important to recognize the symptoms in yourself and your loved ones. At a minimum, proper diagnosis and treatment may enable someone close to get a better night’s sleep. For those more extreme cases, you might just save someone’s life.


Were you an undiagnosed suffered of sleep apnea? How did it affect your life? How does sleep apnea affect your life now? Share your experiences with others in the forums.

Related Links

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/SleepApnea/SleepApnea_WhoIsAtRisk.html
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070319/sleep_apnea
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/2007/lbrdc-vsmrc/sleep-sommeil-eng.php
http://www.aasmnet.org/Articles.aspx?id=1330
http://esciencenews.com/articles/2009/02/06/losing.weight.can.cure.obstructive.sleep.apnea.overweight.patients
http://www.healthnews.uc.edu/news/?/3052/
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-11/acoc-tgl102709.php
http://whsc.emory.edu/home/news/releases/2009/05/sleep-apnea-and-heart-disease.html
http://opa.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=1600
http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/full/175/6/612
http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2008-rst/5075.html
http://www.aasmnet.org/Articles.aspx?id=1560
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090123074956.htm
http://www.temple.edu/newsroom/2008_2009/05/stories/apnea_obesity.htm
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-01/ats-osa011410.php

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Category: Disease Information, Medical Research, Symptom Information

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