Top Danger #1: Overall Mortality
If you snore a lot at night, it might be sleep apnea and it might be dangerous.
Sleep apnea is a common and under-diagnosed condition where you stop breathing during sleep. Individuals who have sleep apnea often report insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and dry mouth upon waking up. Their partners may report loud snoring and short intervals where breathing stops during the night.
This condition is caused by the muscles in the back of the throat blocking your airway, making it difficult to breathe.
Many people with sleep apnea don't know that they have it. Unfortunately, research is increasingly showing that this seemingly innocuous condition can carry serious consequences.
A study carried out in the town of Busselton, Western Australia provides of the best data we have yet on sleep apnea.
Volunteers who had severe sleep apnea had a significantly higher risk of dying from any cause.
From this study, researchers showed that sleep apnea increases the risk of overall mortality by around 4.2x, even after adjusting for age, gender, BMI, smoker status, cholesterol, and diabetes.
Sleep apnea study methods
Top Danger #2: Stroke
Volunteers who had sleep apnea were more likely to get strokes. The mechanism behind this is unclear. But, as you can see from the chart above, individuals who had sleep apnea were much more likely to get a stroke after around 15 years from the start of the study.
Only around 8% of volunteers with mild sleep apnea were hospitalized for stroke, compared to over 40% of those with moderate to severe sleep apnea.
Top Danger #3: Cancer
Sleep apnea had an unexpected effect on cancer. Volunteers with sleep apnea were signficantly more likely to develop cancer over the 20 years of this study.
We don't however know whether sleep apnea causes cancer or whether there are other factors that somehow tie these together.
This link will require further study before we can confirm it with certainty.
Keys to Health
Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous condition. If you are snoring and feeling tired in the morning, talk to your doctor.
If left untreated, moderate to severe sleep apnea can worsen your sleep and worsen your overall health. Surprisingly, mild sleep apnea did not carry more risks than not having sleep apnea at all.
This study provides strong long-term estimates on the dangers of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea often occurs alongside other conditions. This makes it difficult to isolate the exact effects of sleep apnea beyond comorbid conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. However, by using objective measurements of sleep apnea and by good variable adjustment, the researchers here provide compelling evidence and estimates.