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Living without regular sleep and sleep apnea is like operating machinery that hasn’t received maintenance in years. You can occasionally have a bad night’s sleep and probably be OK, but going long periods of time without deep sleep can seriously strain your body. 

Chronic obstructive sleep apnea reduces and sometimes entirely stops the airflow during sleep, which prevents you from getting the deep rest that you need to function during the day. This lack of oxygen disrupts the body’s nightly maintenance cycle, which causes further problems. 

It’s no small matter. When you leave sleep apnea untreated, it can lead to the development of many other serious health conditions. 

Ways Sleep Apnea Can Affect the Body

Here are ways sleep apnea can affect the body — and how treatment may help.

Parkinson’s Disease

The disruption of the breathing cycle can make toxins build up in the organs and muscles. This buildup increases the risk for degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. 

An incurable condition, Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system. It can cause tremors and stiffness in the muscles as well as loss of control of fine motor skills.

[Related: A Guide on Popular Anti-Snoring Devices (What Works and What Is a Waste of Money)]

Depression, Anxiety and Alzheimer’s Disease

Poor sleep due to sleep apnea also prevents the brain from flushing out toxins or processing stress and new information from the day. In the short term, this can make dealing with daily frustrations, learning new skills and remembering recent events difficult. 

Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk for depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease, especially as we age.

Diabetes

A 2023 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine suggested that people with severe sleep apnea had a 30% higher risk of developing diabetes. The study also found people suffering from mild to moderate sleep apnea had a 23% increased risk of developing diabetes.

These results make sense because the condition prevents an adequate amount of oxygen from reaching the cells in the body, causes less sleep and increases heart rate. All these factors tie to the development of diabetes.

The study included more than 8,600 people suffering from this sleep disorder. However, the study had one notable limitation — it didn’t take into account the participants’ possible family history of diabetes.

[Related: Traveling With a CPAP Machine]

Osteoporosis

Another sleep apnea effect on your body and health is the risk of developing osteoporosis.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism compared the medical records of 1,400 people diagnosed with sleep apnea to those of more than 20,600 people who didn’t suffer from the disorder. The study suggested people with sleep apnea are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease.

The study showed that the participants with sleep apnea were 2.7 times more likely to receive an osteoporosis diagnosis. The risk of osteoporosis also increased if the participants were female or older adults.

What’s the cause? The condition links to osteoporosis because the sleep disorder deprives the body of oxygen, which can weaken the bones.

Cardiac Death

A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggested people suffering from sleep apnea are at a higher risk of sudden cardiac death.

The study followed more than 7,000 participants over 50 years old with official sleep apnea diagnoses. Over the following 15 years, 142 of those participants experienced sudden cardiac arrest.

The study identified three measures that strongly predicted the risk of sudden cardiac death:

  1. Being over 60 years old
  2. Having at least 20 sleep apnea episodes per hour
  3. Having low blood oxygen levels 

Obesity and heart disease are also major risk factors for cardiac death.

[Related: How To Sleep Better While Traveling]

Increased Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents

In addition to raising the risk of developing these chronic conditions, sleep apnea can affect your ability to perform daily tasks safely. 

Chronic sleep deprivation disrupts your ability to focus and can cause the brain to slip into periods of microsleep. It might sound like an intriguing term, but microsleeps are brief lapses in consciousness that the person suffering them doesn’t notice. As a result, they can clearly pose a serious safety threat when they occur during tasks requiring concentration, such as driving a vehicle.

A new study on driving and sleep apnea by the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea have a greater risk of being involved in motor vehicle accidents.

Researchers performed the study in Sweden among 1,478 patients with an average age of 53 years. Most patients were male. During the study, researchers compared the rate of vehicle accidents involving patients with sleep conditions to the rate of accidents from the general population. 

Ultimately, the study found patients with this sleep disorder were approximately 2.5 times more likely than the general population (without sleep apnea) to be the driver in a vehicle accident. This likelihood increased when excessive daytime sleepiness, five or fewer hours of sleep and/or sleeping pill use were present.

[Related: The 5 Levels of Breathing Obstruction]

Treatments for Chronic Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Fortunately, doctors can treat chronic obstructive sleep apnea.

Lifestyle Changes

Patients with mild sleep apnea can benefit from making changes in their daily life and altering their sleeping habits to help keep the airways open. These changes can include the following: 

  • Developing a healthy diet and exercise routine 
  • Changing sleeping positions from lying on your back to sleeping on your side, which reduces the chances of your airway collapsing
  • Avoiding alcohol or other sedatives before bed to reduce the risk staying unconscious during an airway collapse

Physicians can also treat mild cases with dental or oral appliances that realign the jaw during sleep. These appliances prevent the tongue or soft palate from collapsing into the airway.

CPAP Machines

Continuous or constant positive air pressure (CPAP) machines are one of the most commonly prescribed treatments  when lifestyle changes or oral appliances prove ineffective. CPAP machines use constant airflow to help keep the airway open during sleep.

Surgical Procedures

People living with more severe sleep apnea may need advanced surgery that alters the soft tissues to reduce the chances of airway collapse during sleep. These procedures can include palatal reconstruction, tongue advancement or a midline glossectomy, among others.

[Related: Looking for CPAP Alternatives? Try Dental Appliances]

Contact Dr. Pasha Today!

If you believe a sleep condition is throwing a wrench into your body’s regular maintenance, seek treatment from a certified sleep specialist at Pasha Snoring & Sinus Center. It’s the first step toward living a healthier, happier life. 

Dr. Pasha always focuses on finding the cause behind your sleep problems. He starts with a sleep study, then works with you to develop the best treatment plan. 

Additionally, Dr. Pasha is a board-certified specialist and can help you figure out whether you suffer from a sleep condition. He’s also experienced in treating sleep apnea in various ways, and he always considers what’s best for his patients. 

Commit to your health by scheduling an appointment today, and stop sleep apnea!