Sleep Apnea Causes Lack of Sleep and Serious Health Risks

New studies show that sleep apnea can affect many aspects of health, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression.

Current estimates show that over 25 million adults in the United States have sleep apnea. That number has increased significantly in the last 20 years.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is destroying the health of millions of Americans, and the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. Morgenthaler is a national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts sleep by causing stops and starts in breathing.

People with sleep apnea typically take shallow breaths or have pauses in breathing while they sleep. Pauses can last from several seconds to minutes, and may happen 30 or more times an hour.

Breathing often resumes with a choking sound or loud snort. People with sleep apnea also often snore loudly.

Research shows that 26 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 have sleep apnea. This condition can have negative effects on brain and heart health which can be reduced using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) while sleeping.

Because pauses in breathing disrupt deep sleep, people with untreated sleep apnea may not feel rested after a full night’s sleep and often feel tired during the day.

Other signs of sleep apnea include waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth, waking with a headache, and problems with attention.

Recent studies highlight the health risks associated with sleep apnea:

• Researchers in Taiwan concluded that people with sleep apnea may have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and more likely to break. (4)

• Researchers in Taiwan also determined that obstructive sleep apnea can increase the risk of pneumonia. (5)

• Untreated sleep apnea can result in high blood pressure that is resistant to medications. Poor blood pressure control can significantly increase cardiovascular risks. (6)

• A population study in Brazil revealed that 92 percent of patients with severe sleep apnea had abnormal heart rhythms at night compared with 53 percent of people without sleep apnea. (1)

• Research published in the journal Sleep showed that people with severe untreated sleep apnea had physical changes in the brain accompanied by problems thinking as well as changes in mood and reduced daytime alertness. This damage to the brain was almost completely reversed in people who used CPAP therapy for a year. (1)

CPAP therapy begun prior to surgery has also been shown to reduce postoperative heart problems including cardiac arrest and shock by more than half. (1)

If your sleep partner tells you that you stop breathing or seem to choke while sleeping, or if you have questions about obstructive sleep apnea and available treatments, talk to your health care professional.


1) American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Rising prevalence of sleep apnea in U.S. threatens public health. Web. October 6, 2014.

2) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is Sleep Apnea? Web. October 6, 2014.

3) Mayo Clinic. Sleep apnea. Web. October 6, 2014.

4) Science Daily. Osteoporosis risk heightened among sleep apnea patients. Web. October 6, 2014.

5) Science Daily. People with sleep apnea may be at higher risk of pneumonia. Web. October 6, 2014.

6) Severity of sleep apnea impacts risk of resistant high blood pressure. Web. October 6, 2014.

Reviewed October 7, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith