Can Treating Sleep Apnea Increase Life Expectancy?

Our bodies need sleep in order to function efficiently and effectively. Scientific evidence tells us that we need to maintain a regular sleep routine so that our bodies can carry out vital maintenance processes to rest and repair the body while we sleep. 

Some people, although they may be going to bed for eight hours, they may not be getting the proper quality sleep that's required by the body in order to rejuvenate itself and ensure all systems are working to their full potential. This can have serious repercussions for our health and longevity.

Recognizing the Condition

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing and sleep are interrupted intermittently during the night. There are three types of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is quite rare as this involves faulty signals from the brain to the muscles involved with breathing. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form. The body relaxes during sleep and as the airways relax, they effectively 'collapse' and block the airflow. When this happens, the heart rate and oxygen levels drop. 

To combat this, the body panics and wakes itself up in order to restart breathing. This can happen over and over during the night and places stress on the heart, increasing the heart rate and blood pressure. It is also possible to have a mixture of the two types of apnea and this is referred to as 'mixed type'.

As the condition is connected to sleep, it is usually the partner who notices the warning signs of OSA; this includes loud snoring. A partner may even notice pauses in breathing followed by gasping sounds. If you suffer from OSA you may need to urinate frequently during the night or wake with a headache and/or dry mouth. You are likely to experience daytime tiredness and may be irritable too.

OSA is more commonly found in males, those over 40, people who are obese and smokers. It can also run in families. Children may suffer from OSA but this is usually due to a physical issue such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Untreated Sleep Apnea and Life Expectancy

The yo-yo effect on the heart and blood pressure, and constant interruptions to sleep place an enormous strain on the body. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has some statistics which suggest that untreated sleep apnea can double your risk of death. Other studies also confirm that the condition shears several years off a person's life.

Some of the long-term effects of the condition on the cardiovascular system include:

  • Blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • An enlarged heart
  • Heart failure and stroke.

The condition is also linked with diabetes and obesity and may occur with other conditions like chronic obstructive lung disease.

Not only can life expectancy be cut by these related health issues, tiredness and fatigue can lead to errors in judgment, driver safety and accidental death. In 2016, a train driver who crashed a train into a New Jersey train station injuring over 100 people and killing one, was found to be suffering from OSA.

Getting Treatment

It's important to get a diagnosis for a sleep disorder. Often this involves a polysomnogram which studies your sleep, and an assessment of your mouth and throat to determine if there is a physical reason for the blockage such as enlarged tonsils. 

If diagnosed with OSA, you may be advised to make some lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking or losing weight. Some people with mild OSA (mild OSA means that you may stop breathing briefly between 5 and 15 times a night), may benefit from sleeping on their side too.

However, for people with moderate or severe OSA (moderate; stops breathing 16-30 times per night, severe; stops breathing more than 30 times a night), CPAP therapy is the most common form of treatment.

How CPAP Therapy Improves Life Expectancy

A CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, keeps the airways open by forcing air through the nose and mouth. A small machine delivers the air through a tube into a mask which is worn by the sleeper. A variety of masks are available to suit the person's particular needs. 

The great news is that as well as improving a person's ability to sleep and breathe, a 2018 study of Danish adults conducted over 13 years showed that use of a CPAP machine reduced the risk of heart failure. 

Further longitudinal studies also show that benefits of CPAP therapy occur after six or seven years of therapy. Researchers now believe that they have evidence to suggest that CPAP therapy can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and improve life expectancy.

Final thoughts

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder so it's important to get a diagnosis and treatment. Sleep apnea affects you physically, mentally and emotionally and can cut years off your life. 

Don't let a sleep disorder affect your health and wellbeing; talk to your doctor or health expert about your symptoms today. CPAP therapy may be able to relieve your symptoms and restore your life expectancy.

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