Every month there seems to be a new study linking sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing (snoring, paused breathing, etc.) with its negative effects on health. Sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders are prevalent in our society, and people need to wake up to the symptoms and risks associated with them.
Recent studies have linked obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to depression, silent strokes and small brain lesions, abnormalities in the blood vessels, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes, even sudden hearing loss. And women take note: Sleep apnea has been linked to dementia in older women, and another observational study found that women with untreated severe OSA are 3.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women without OSA!
Most recently, in late April, in a study entitled, “Cerebrovascular Consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea” researchers induced sleep apnea in the mice while they slept. Surprisingly, they found that after just one month of induced repeated apneas, the mice’s “cerebral vessel dilatory function” was reduced by as much as 22 percent, and the mice’s cerebrovascular function did not function as normal, before the apneas. In other words, after just one month of repeated apneas, the blood vessels in the mice’s brains did not work as well as they once did.
The compelling aspect of this study is that only one month of moderate, repeated sleep apnea caused a change in cerebrovascular function, which could result in a stroke. It is important to note that the results of the study correlate with other studies that show similar cell dysfunction in arteries, which has caused an increased risk of stroke in OSA patients. This just reinforces the speed in which sleep apnea can damage the body, and the importance of getting diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.
An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, including one in four women over 65, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While apnea is more common in men, it increases in women after age 50. And some researchers estimate that up to 85 percent of people with clinically significant sleep apnea have not even been diagnosed yet.
So how do you know if you have sleep apnea? The first step is to become aware of some common symptoms, including trouble falling asleep at night, waking throughout the night, chronic snoring, morning headaches, poor memory, daytime sleepiness/falling asleep during the day, bad moods and irritability, increased depression and trouble concentrating, driving, and making decisions. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, and suspect that you may have sleep apnea, please get checked out by a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. Be specific about the symptoms you are experiencing.