Sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition, is a sleep disorder that occurs when breathing continuously stops and starts throughout the night. Common sleep apnea symptoms include excessive snoring and feeling tired and unrested, even after many hours of sleep. There are many potential risk factors for sleep apnea, such as being overweight, having a wide neck circumference and having a narrow airway.
Additional risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Being male
- Advanced age
- Family history of sleep apnea
- Alcohol use
- Sedative use
- Sitting for prolonged length of time
Here are some of the possible dangers of sleep apnea.
Daytime Drowsiness And Mood Swings
Sleep apnea interferes with normal breathing patterns throughout the night. This can interrupt sleep and interfere with the restorative sleep that is needed to feel well-rested and rejuvenated. Some of the most common complaints among individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are daytime drowsiness, irritability and fatigue.
Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea often have difficulty concentrating and find it hard to stay awake throughout the day. Many times, people with sleep apnea will complain of falling asleep during various activities, such as when watching television, while at work, and even while driving. Feelings of irritability, depression and mood swings are common in those who suffer from sleep apnea. In children and teenagers, sleep apnea can interfere with their ability to perform well at school due to excessive tiredness or behavior problems.
Increased Risk Of Accidents
The drowsiness and fatigue that occurs as a result of sleep apnea is more than just a nuisance. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are more likely to be involved in motor accidents as a result of distracted driving or even falling asleep at the wheel.
Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea often present with frequent episodes of snoring throughout the night. These episodes can be disruptive to partners and those who are in close proximity to the individual. The disrupted sleep that they experience as a result of being woken by the snoring can lead to the same dangerous health effects that occur from a lack of sleep. Many times, partners will relocate to another room to avoid being woken up from their sleep by the snoring. This can lead to problems in the relationship.
(For tips on how to stop snoring, read 5 Home Remedies To Stop And Prevent Snoring.)
Individuals who have an underlying heart condition, like heart disease, are at a greater risk of experiencing a worsening of their condition if they also suffer from sleep apnea. Those who have an underlying heart condition together with sleep apnea are also more likely to die from sudden cardiac death. Even individuals who do not have an underlying heart condition are at an increased risk of atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure if they suffer from sleep apnea.
Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea are at a greater risk of having a stroke. This risk is increased even if the individual does not suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease.
During episodes of sleep apnea, a sudden drop in blood oxygen occurs. This increases blood pressure and puts additional strain on the cardiovascular system. Individuals who suffer from disruptive sleep apnea are up to three times more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who do not have the condition. The more severe the sleep apnea is, the greater the risk of developing high blood pressure.
Higher Cancer Death Risk
A recent study cited in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM) demonstrated a strong correlation between the presence of sleep apnea and an increased risk of dying from cancer. This 20 year study showed that individuals with sleep apnea were up to four times more likely to die from cancer than people who do not have the condition.
The correlation is believed to be a result of the lack of oxygen that occurs during frequent breathing stoppages. When breathing stops, cells are robbed of oxygen, a term known as hypoxia. One theory is that the lack of oxygen allows cancer cells to multiply quicker. At the end of the study, it was concluded that individuals with sleep apnea were almost five times more likely to have die from cancer-related causes.
When undergoing surgery and taking general anesthesia, individuals with sleep apnea have a greater risk of experiencing complications with breathing during and after surgery.
Breathing problems in individuals with sleep apnea are more likely to occur when sedated and lying flat on the back, two factors that occur during surgery and general anesthesia. For this reason, it is extremely important that individuals with sleep apnea inform their physician of their condition prior to any surgical procedures, as undiagnosed sleep apnea can be especially dangerous under these circumstances.
ADD/ADHD in Children
Children who do not receive adequate amounts of sleep often suffer from symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD). Sometimes, children who are perceived to have ADD/ADHD do not actually have the condition, but instead are suffering from hyperactivity and an inability to concentrate as a result of experiencing severe sleep disturbances. On many occasions, children have showed a significant improvement in ADD/ADHD symptoms when the underlying sleep apnea was diagnosed and treated.
Sleep apnea is more than just a nuisance, it is a potentially serious disorder that can lead to a variety of dangerous conditions. Now that you are aware of the possible dangers of sleep apnea, be sure to consult with your doctor if you feel you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea. There are various treatments, like the use of a CPAP machine, which can help with the condition.