Man is snoring in bed due to sleep apnea, which is suspected to lower life expectancy.

Can sleep apnea put your life expectancy in jeopardy?

The average life expectancy is 78.8 years, according to the CDC. The advancement of modern medicine and technology has made living this long possible. However, bad habits and diseases continue to fight against the progress we have made. That’s why it’s important to know what diseases and conditions lower your life expectancy.

Even conditions that prove to be a minor inconvenience can have a long-term impact on your health. Sleep apnea, for instance, is a troublesome condition that is often overlooked. Now, scientists are concerned that disorder’s influence on your quality of life can also affect how long you live.

How Is Sleep Apnea Troublesome?

If you are unfamiliar with sleep apnea, it’s a common condition that affects over 18 million Americans. The condition can briefly and repeatedly interrupt your breathing during sleep, causing a series of issues. For example, most patients with sleep apnea often experience restless nights, daytime sleepiness, trouble concentrating, and even cognitive issues.

There are three forms of sleep apnea – obstructive, central, and complex. Most people deal with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat collapse and close the airways. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is much rarer and occurs when an abnormality in the brain fails to maintain proper breathing when you are asleep. As for complex sleep apnea, this version of the disorder is a combination of both obstructive and central. All forms of the condition have similar effects on the body.

The Danger to Your Life Expectancy

Known risk factors for OSA include obesity and old age. Unfortunately, these conditions are becoming more and more prominent. Globally, sleep apnea affects over 100 million people. Even worse, a lot of those cases go undiagnosed. What many scientists have found is that sleep apnea is hard to diagnose, since most patients are unconscious when the condition affects them. The biggest indicator of the disease is snoring, which most people only discover when someone else is monitoring their sleep.

Researchers in Portugal decided to look into the issue and measure its impact on the body. They published an opinion article in Trends in Molecular Medicine, an online resource for commissioned, peer-reviewed articles.

“In this paper, we try to put together the information that led us to the controversial hypothesis that obstructive sleep apnea accelerates age-related decline, which has promoted debate and stimulated research in the field,” says co-author Claudia Cavadas of the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra. “We believe that by treating or stopping obstructive sleep apnea progression, we will not only improve patients’ quality of life but also delay health issues related to aging.”

When air passageways are blocked, the low-oxygen levels in the brain causes the body to suddenly awaken. Cavadas suspects that continued disruption in blood oxygen levels puts too much stress on the body, generating:

  • Stem Cell Exhaustion
  • Epigenetic Changes
  • Increased Inflammation
  • Signs of Aging

Taking Action for the Future

“Further studies are needed to clearly distinguish between correlative and causal observations in proposed links between obstructive sleep apnea, aging, and age-related disease,” they write. “Moreover, the high rates of undiagnosed cases and the low level of public awareness on this disease constitute a barrier that has been difficult to overcome.”

Patients should note that sleep apnea has less of an impact when treated right away. The condition is connecting to a variety of life threatening diseases like diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

In the end, Cavadas hopes to find improve treatments.  “The next step in understanding sleep apnea in the future will be to dissect different subtypes of sleep apnea, likely defined by distinct pathophysiological mechanisms which may underlie different outcomes and predisposition to comorbidities,” Cavadas says, “As human life expectancy increases, delaying the onset of age-related diseases becomes critical to our society.”

If you are experiencing snoring or any other symptoms of sleep apnea, it is best to seek out an otolaryngologist. These doctors handle diseases that concern the ear, nose, and throat. They can provide you with the best treatment options and a way to find relief.

Dr. Eric Cohen is an experienced otolaryngologist, with over 20 years of extensive experience. Using the latest technologies and treatment plans, he finds the optimal solution for you. If you live in the New York area, contact Dr. Cohen’s office at (212) 600-9411 to schedule a visit.