Can Sleep Apnea Kill You? Here Are the Results From A Recent Study

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Have you ever heard of sleep apnea? This disease is quite common, even though only one in four people who suffer from it are actually diagnosed. It affects men and women of all ages, but it's mostly common among middle-aged men. According to the  Sleep Apnea Trust, this disease affects one in every 25 middle-aged men – and even though it doesn't sound like something you should worry about, it is actually quite a serious problem.

This disorder also causes daytime drowsiness, which can seriously affect both your work and your social life, as well as your ability to drive safely.

So, what is sleep apnea (also called sleep-disordered breathing)? It is a disorder where the throat closes or narrows while one is sleeping, repeatedly interrupting one's breathing. This leads to a fall in oxygen levels in the blood, causing the brain to suddenly wake you up. This though this happens hundreds of times during the night, you are not aware of it. However, you end up not sleeping peacefully and it might cause you to feel tired the next day.

More than twenty-eight million of residents in the United States have this disorder, and 80% of them aren't even aware of it. About 38,000 of them die in their sleep every year, as the sleep-disordered breathing exacerbates a certain circulatory problem, which causes a stroke or fatal heart attack.

The Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Dr. Raina Gupta, a sleep medicine specialist at the Chicago's Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, says:

“The sooner you know whether or not you have this disorder and how severe it actually is, the sooner you can be treated and thus avoid any possible damage to your heart.”

As already mentioned, most people aren't even aware that they have this disease, and it's often a family member or their partner that notices that something's wrong. These are some of the most common sleep-disordered breathing symptoms:

  • A very loud snoring
  • Sleepiness and loss of energy when you wake up
  • Painful headaches in the morning
  • Restless sleep – inability to sleep in a proper, relaxed way
  • Insomnia and recurrent awakenings
  • Waking up with a dry or very sore throat
  • Waking up frequently during the night with a gasping or choking sensation
  • Sleepiness while you drive the car
  • Sudden mood changes, forgetfulness, and a reduced interest in sex
  • Poor concentration
  • Going to the toilet frequently during the night

Having one of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean that you have sleep apnea, but a combination of a few of them might. In that case, it is very important that you visit your doctor as soon as possible.

The Health Risks of Sleep Apnea

The total number of deaths related to sleep apnea is something difficult to determine, but thanks to research (like the one carried out by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine), we now know that this disorder can lead to the following complications:

  • An increased risk of having a strokesleep apnea health risks
  • Death due to heart disease
  • Insulin resistance and glucose tolerance, leading to diabetes
  • Gastric Reflux (also called GERD)
  • Weight gain and inability to lose weight
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Heart attacks

Dr. Neomi Shah and her colleagues at Yale University found in their 2014 research, that

“when a person has sleep apnea for 4 or 5 years, his or her risk of having a heart attack is increased by 30%”.

To come to this conclusion, Dr. Shah's research monitored over a thousand patients who were being evaluated for sleep-disordered breathing, and more than half of those people had at least 15 low-oxygen events per one hour of sleep.

This, as you can see, sounds very serious. If you suspect that you or your family member might be suffering from this disorder, make sure to go to a doctor for a proper diagnosis, as it just might save your life.

Diagnosing the Sleep Apnea

There are two main ways to diagnose this serious disorder – after observation at the sleep clinic, or at home by wearing a special testing device while sleeping.

  • Seeing Your Doctor

When you go to see your doctor, he'll probably ask you some questions about the symptoms, like if you're often falling asleep against your will. He will also measure your blood pressure and examine a sample of your blood, to rule out other conditions that might be the cause of your tiredness.

The next step would be an observation at the sleep center, where they'll calculate your BMI and measure down the circumference of your neck (overweight people usually have large necks, which increases the risk of having sleep-disordered breathing).

After that, the professionals at the sleep clinic will need to observe your sleep, and you'll either have to spend the night there or be given some equipment to take home with you for monitoring. You will, of course, have to bring it back for analysis.

  • Testing at Home

Don't worry about this option, because the staff at the sleep center will explain to you exactly how to use it. This kit may include devices such as a breathing sensor, bands to be placed on your chest, sensors that monitor your heart rate, and oxygen sensors that you put on your fingers.

Once the observation process and analysis are over, the specialists will determine the severity of your sleep apnea (mild, moderate, or severe), and prescribe the proper treatment.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

The treatment for sleep apnea may include making some serious lifestyle changes, using various breathing devices while sleeping, or surgery.

  • The Lifestyle Changes

In most cases, you will just be advised to make healthy lifestyle changes, like losing weight if you're obese, stopping smoking if you're a smoker, or limiting the consumption of alcohol. In some cases, the doctor might even tell you to stop using any sleeping tablets or sedative medication.

Sleeping on your side might also help to relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea (read more tips about falling asleep fast). And, if you have an old mattress for years we recommend you to check some of the top rated beds for people with sleep apnea.

  • CPAP – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

People with moderate to severe sleep apnea usually need to use a CPAP device, which is a small pump that looks like a mask that covers your nose and mouth, delivering a supply of compressed air. Even though wearing a CPAP during sleep might feel uncomfortable in the beginning, people usually get used to it after some time, and their condition improves significantly.

continuous positive airway pressure

  • MAD – Mandibular Advancement Device

This is a dental appliance that's used to treat mild cases of sleep-disordered breathing and looks very similar to gum shields. The mandibular advancement device is worn over the teeth when sleeping, holding the jaw and the tongue in such a way that it increases space in the back of your throat, thus reducing narrowing of the airway. It is recommended to have a MAD made specifically for you, as the off-the-shelf models might feel really uncomfortable inside your mouth.

  • Surgery

Surgery, as a solution to sleep apnea, is not something that's routinely recommended and it is used only as a last resort when every other kind of treatment has failed. The reason behind this is that these surgeries carry the risk of some serious complications. There is a range of surgical treatments that have been used to treat sleep apnea, like the tracheostomy, tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, and bariatric surgery.


As you can see, sleep apnea is a very serious disorder, and yes, it might lead to some complications that could result in your death. This is exactly why you should go and see the doctor if you think that you have any of the symptoms that we mentioned, and get proper treatment if the specialists find out that you actually do have sleep-disordered breathing.

There are also some steps that you can take to get a good night's sleep and make living with the sleep-disordered breathing easier, like participating in regular physical activities, avoiding caffeine, and developing a bedtime routine that would consist of warm baths, dimmed lights, and herbal teas – anything that could help you to relax and prepare for a good night's rest.

Author: Mark Reddick

When I’m not learning about sleep, you can find me hanging out with my wife and close friends.

I absolutely love entrepreneurship and learning how to improve yourself daily. We only get one life, and I want to make it the best one possible.

I hope that everyone that finds our site takes a new approach to sleep. The world needs to stop thinking about it as something “we just do,” but rather something that allows us “to do every day.”

  1. Reply
    Pam Allen December 13, 2017 at 3:43 am

    I live on social security. Is there any financial help for me to pay the co pay on my insurance? My apnea is severe so I don’t want to stop using the CPAP but I can’t pay what I don’t have. Thank you.

  2. Reply
    Sarah Cummings December 13, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Hey Pam,

    I will have to consult with our legal team about this and get back to you. 🙂


  3. Reply
    Doug December 31, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Since discovering i had severe sleep apnea- I feel like the cpap is saving my life- I’d urge everyone to persevere with it- my heath(physical and mental) is improving in leaps and bounds

  4. Reply
    Alexandria Martinez January 11, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    A good friend of mine was telling me about her father having sleep apnea. I had not heard of this before and wanted to research it further. I think her family and her would like knowing that he should get a treatment as well as make some lifestyle changes.

  5. Reply
    JJenson March 20, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Just cut back on the donuts and do a little exercise once in a while and you won’t have to worry about this happening.

  6. Reply
    Dann April 10, 2018 at 12:40 am

    I do a lot of exercise, am 75 kgs and 5’10 male. I have sleep apnea where i wake up through not breathing. If it was as easy to stop as you said then there wouldn’t even be this problem.

  7. Reply
    Eole June 22, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    I have used a CPAP machine for the past two years. None of the other methods worked, they were a total waste of time and money. Since using it my blood pressure went down, indigestion was cured. I sleep well but I disagree with the comment that you should sleep on your side. I find it much better to sleep on my back. If I sleep on my side, left or right I get GERD and wake up ingesting vomit into my lungs, not very desirable.

  8. Reply
    Wanda Starke August 25, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    I have sleep apnea and feel like I’m dreaming all the time. I’ve used the CPAP for six months now. Will it help?

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings August 28, 2018 at 7:05 pm

      CPAP is one treatment available for your condition. We’d urge you to talk over any symptoms you might be having with your doctor and hope they are resolved quickly, Wanda. Thanks for reaching out.

  9. Reply
    Greg September 12, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I do not believe it is sleep apnea, but the past 2 nights I have probably slept a total of 1 hour (3 day span). I found an article on hypnic jerking, but my twitches are very frequent – last night for example, I went to bed at midnight and woke up at least 12 times by 3AM. I know this because I was falling asleep in 15 increments but then suddenly a twitch in the leg, hand, would startle me. Is hypnic jerking this common? I have always had it to some degree, but not to this affect. Even when I took the NyQuil PM at 3AM, I continued to jerk. I was previously a 10-5 sleeper, but these last fews day could very well have changed due to recent stress and anxiety. I will see a doctor, but if anyone can agree this is just jerking, it would greatly relieve further stress. Thank you.

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