The Hidden Dangers Of Sleep Apnea

Updated on June 19, 2023

Are you snoring loudly? And still, after sleeping, you feel exhausted in the morning? It may be time to tune into your body’s signals. These symptoms might be more than signs of a long, strenuous day.

They may indicate the presence of a silent yet potentially harmful sleep disorder: Sleep Apnea. According to the National Library of Medicine, it is a common sleep disorder affecting around 34% of men and 17% of women. However, it’s underdiagnosed mainly in most people struggling with the condition.

Fortunately, this article will reveal the possible hidden dangers of sleep apnea. Doctors and patients frequently overlook these symptoms as they primarily occur during the night. Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of awareness and knowledge surrounding this disorder.

Sleep apnea extends beyond mere loud snoring

Sleep apnea is commonly associated with chronic snoring. While snoring is a hallmark symptom, Sleep apnea involves far more than noisy nights and disturbed partners. Two other characteristics are irregular breathing and elongated pauses between breaths.

Moreover, it presents a chain of health risks, some of which are life-threatening if left untreated. Not only will these patients awake repeatedly during the night, but they could also have intermittent oxygen deprivation.

In turn, the disrupted sleep pattern could severely affect the body’s primary systems and increase the risk of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Some also believe there is a correlation between sleep apnea and broken teeth. Adding more stress and strain onto the facial muscles could eventually take a toll on the teeth, especially for those with prolonged sleeping problems.

The cardiovascular complications of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea and cardiovascular diseases are more intertwined than one might assume. Intermittent oxygen deprivation can increase heart rate and blood pressure, pushing the cardiovascular system to work overtime.

This scenario may eventually contribute to heart-related complications like heart failure, arrhythmias, and heart attacks. Untreated sleep apnea may also exacerbate existing cardiovascular conditions, making diagnosis and treatment paramount to cardiovascular health.

Additionally, people with sleep apnea may be more prone to suffering strokes. An article by The Lancet notes that over half of patients who suffered a stroke also have sleep apnea, which minimizes their recovery or exacerbates their symptoms.

The silent perpetrator of metabolic disorders

The impacts of sleep apnea don’t stop at your heart; it can also wreak havoc on your body’s metabolic systems. Chronic sleep deprivation could cause weight gain, escalating the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, recurrent oxygen deprivation can cause insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Springer Link also agrees that the sympathetic stimulation this causes may have detrimental metabolic effects—explaining the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in those with sleep apnea.

In contrast, metabolic disorders can occur independently, with sleep apnea being an additional risk. Patients in middle age who have a sedentary lifestyle and a genetic predisposition may struggle with obesity. This demographic often shows a significant overlap in symptoms between metabolic disorders and sleep apnea.

Impact on mental health and cognitive function

Besides physical health, sleep apnea can silently erode one’s mental well-being and cognitive function. Sleep-deprived individuals often experience one or more of the following, according to an article by Psych Central:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Impaired concentration
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Increased stress levels
  • Overall dissatisfaction with their lives

In the long run, untreated sleep apnea may increase the risk of developing health problems like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Severe sleep apnea could reduce the areas of the brain associated with memory, like the hippocampus. For those with amyloid plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the effects could be even more devastating.

Sleep apnea and daytime fatigue

An often-overlooked danger of sleep apnea is residual daytime fatigue. It’s not just about feeling groggy; this sleepiness can compromise safety. Sleep apnea-related fatigue significantly increases the risk of work-related and driving accidents.

Other signs and symptoms that sleep apnea could induce are listed below:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Depleted energy
  • No motivation
  • Poor work performance
  • Increased risk of making mistakes or errors
  • Decreased interest in social activities
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Trouble concentrating or recalling information
  • Constant irritability
  • Eating an unhealthy, calorie-loaded diet
  • Diminished communication skills

Although there are medical conditions that can also contribute to daytime fatigue, sleep apnea could be the most likely culprit.

Detecting and managing sleep apnea

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Sleep apnea can be a silent menace, but it doesn’t have to be. Proper diagnosis and treatment can significantly reduce the risks associated with this condition. Suppose you or a loved one exhibits symptoms such as loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, excessive daytime fatigue, or episodes of stopped breathing during sleep. In that case, it’s crucial to seek medical attention.

Various treatment options are available, including:

  • Lifestyle changes: Eating a varied, healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, and creating better habits and daily routines could improve Sleep Apnea.
  • Use of oral appliances: Medical professionals might recommend anti-snoring devices or mouthguards to prevent damage to the mouth and teeth. These devices are also claimed to prevent soft tissue collapse, but further research is needed to confirm their effectiveness.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy: A more expensive alternative to other treatments is the CPAP machine. It requires that the patient sleeps with the device over their nose from where it applies the pressure to the airway. For most, it may take some getting used to before they can comfortably fall asleep with the device.
  • Surgery: Oral surgeons could determine if there may be excess skin at the back of the pallet or if there are other surgical interventions they can assist with to prevent sleep apnea for their patients.

The proper treatment varies based on the individual’s specific circumstances and the severity of the condition. However, it’s important to recognize that not everyone may have access to medical aid or the finances to consider all the aforementioned options.

Nevertheless, patients can contact their nearest healthcare facility to enquire about the possible solutions available to them. Healthcare providers may also recommend trying home remedies as a more cost-effective alternative before exploring other treatment options.

In conclusion

Sleep apnea, the unseen nighttime nemesis, is a health hazard that warrants more attention. It is not merely an issue of disrupted sleep or loud snoring; it is a condition with the potential to trigger a cascade of health complications.

Raising awareness and promoting early diagnosis and treatment can mitigate the hidden dangers of sleep apnea, transforming nights into truly restorative respites.