How to Improve Sleep Using Statistics About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder that can severely impact the quality of your sleep and by association the quality of your life. The most common form of this sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. 

Someone with obstructive sleep apnea can briefly wake up, gasping for air, up to 30 to 60 times every hour. Without treatment, sleep apnea increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia. 

Sleep apnea is far more common than many people realize. Indeed, it is believed that around 80% of cases go undiagnosed, placing these people at a higher risk of developing life-threatening health conditions. 

Statistics about sleep apnea can help improve sleep by raising awareness of this chronic sleep disorder and by highlighting the groups more likely to develop the condition. Diagnosis and treatment are key to improved sleep and improved health.

Key Statistics About Sleep Apnea

It is estimated that 936 million adults worldwide have obstructive sleep apnea, with around 39 million people in the US alone. Therefore, you are far from being in a small minority if you experience sleep apnea symptoms.

Age can play a role, as you are more likely to develop sleep apnea if you are over 50 years old when it affects 18% of men and 8% of women. 

However, age is no true indicator of this sleep disorder, as sleep apnea still affects 12% of men between the ages of 30 and 49, and 3% of women. Up to 5% of children between the ages of two and six develop sleep apnea.

These figures also illustrate how sleep apnea is more prevalent in men. Both genders are at more risk with increasing age, with the frequency of the disorder rising in women after menopause.

Ethnicity can also place you at more risk of sleep apnea, with African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics tending to have higher rates of the disorder.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Why certain groups are at increased risk of sleep apnea is difficult to pinpoint -- as there can be several contributing risk factors for developing the condition. 

For instance, age may place you at more risk due to physical changes to the neck – obesity and excess neck tissue -- leading to muscle tissue pressing on airways while you sleep. 

Changes in weight levels and hormones could explain the variation between genders, but the precise reasons remain uncertain.

The following are risk factors that may contribute to sleep apnea:

  • obesity
  • large neck
  • age
  • narrow upper airway
  • alcohol
  • certain medications
  • smoking

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Knowing the risk factors and the statistics showing the groups most likely to develop sleep apnea can alert you to the possibility this may be you. 

Recognizing the symptoms is the next stage to using such statistics to help improve your sleep.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • frequently waking throughout the night
  • waking gasping for air
  • loud snoring
  • daytime sleepiness
  • morning headaches
  • dry mouth
  • poor concentration

As the arousal for air can be so brief, you may not be aware of it. The fatigue the next day may be the main telltale sign something is not right unless a sleep partner tells you about how often you wake each night or that you snore. 

Snoring is a factor for up to 94% of people with obstructive sleep apnea, but as strong a symptom as this is, not everyone who snores will have a sleep disorder. Around half the adult population snores and around 25% of women snore.

However, if you notice any indication of sleep apnea, you should consult your health provider.

Improving Sleep Through Diagnosis

If your health provider suspects sleep apnea, they will likely recommend a sleep study called a polysomnography. This usually involves an overnight stay where different readings are monitored as you sleep, although an at-home test is also possible and much easier to accomplish.

In many cases, you may be advised to first take a home sleep study – sleeping in your own bed, connected with a few simple testing devices.

Obstructive sleep apnea is designated mild, moderate, or severe. A test result with an apnea-hypopnea index of more than 30, meaning you have over 30 paused breathing events every hour, is classed as severe.

Diagnosis of sleep apnea increased by 27% in men and 25% in women across 20 years between 1993 and 2013. This could indicate lifestyle factors that increase the risk of obesity -- but it could also point to more awareness of the condition and increased diagnosis.

The worrying aspect of the statistics is that it is estimated that 80% of all cases go without diagnosis, placing millions of people at risk of developing serious health conditions from untreated sleep apnea. One review reported the risk of heart failure increases by 140%, heart disease by 30%, and stroke by 60%.

Statistics on Treatment

Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) therapy remains a leading treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. The airways are kept clear of obstruction using a device that delivers pressurized air through a mask worn while you sleep. 

PAP therapy can take a little while to adjust to, but adherence is key for successfully reducing sleep apnea symptoms.

Around 33 million Americans use a PAP device. PAP is an effective way to treat sleep apnea and improve sleep quality. According to a study by Philips Respironics 7 out of 10 users adhere to PAP once started, with older users more likely to continue using their machine than younger patients.

Adherence is crucial in treating sleep apnea, and anyone finding the transition to PAP hard to tolerate should discuss alternative devices or treatments with their health provider.

Final Thoughts

Without treatment, sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can have a huge impact on the quality of your life. Not only does the disorder place you at increased risk of serious health conditions, the daytime sleepiness puts you at an increased risk of accidents, including traffic accidents.

Statistics about sleep apnea are useful in highlighting sections of the population most at risk from sleep apnea. However, anyone can develop this sleep disorder -- and you should consult your health provider if you have any of the symptoms.