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Can Sleep Apnea Kill You? Signs You Should Know

Aug 21, 2023
· 9 mins read

Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders worldwide. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 18 million adults and 10–20% of children who snore in the United States have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

But is this disease capable of causing sudden death? We have brought a few answers.

Signs You May Have Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is sleep-disordered breathing disease that is characterized by repetitive episodes of absent or reduced inspiratory airflow (apnea and hypopnea) at night. It can become a serious health problem since it can decrease blood oxygen levels in important organs, such as the brain and heart.


There are three main types of sleep apnea:


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The most common type of sleep apnea, OSA occurs when the throat muscles relax, leading to airway closure. It is associated with obesity, big tonsils, and nasal congestion.


Central sleep apnea: This less common type of sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to your breathing muscles, causing them to malfunction, and is associated with people that have suffered strokes or are taking sedatives (eg. opioids).


Complex sleep apnea: This rare form of sleep apnea occurs the person suffers from both the central and obstructive type, leading to more acute symptoms and faster progression. .

According to the American Heart Association, around 34% of adult men and 17% of adult women have sleep apnea. Now that you know how prevalent it is, you must be asking how do I know if I have sleep apnea?


Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they suffer from this disorder. Most signs of sleep apnea are hard to notice unless you have severe sleep apnea͢—which can lead to a poor immune response, mental health issues, and pulmonary and heart diseases.


The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are:


-Loud snoring

-Daytime sleepiness

-Changes in the breathing pattern noticed by family or partner

-Gasping for air during the night

-Morning headaches

-Hypopnea during sleep

-Dry mouth

-Daytime fatigue


If you have two or more of these symptoms or your partner notices you have stopped breathing during the night, you should visit your healthcare provider or a sleep medicine doctor to plan a sleep study—which is the only effective diagnostic tool in the present. You can take our home sleep test which provides sleep physician consultation and you can get result in 2-3 days

If it is positive for sleep apnea, you don't have anything to worry about, there are tons of treatment options we’ll mention later on.  Additionally, Sleeplay has created a short quiz to determine if you should be seen by a specialist or if you don’t have anything to worry about.

Some risk factors that are highly associated with sleep apnea are:


-Weight gain (obesity)

-Excessive alcohol consumption

-Use of sedative medication

-Type 2 diabetes

-A family history of sleep apnea.


Other factors that may increase the risk of sleep apnea are large tonsils, a thick neck, and any other condition that could cause the upper airway to narrow.

The Health Risks of Sleep Apnea


Is sleep apnea a disease that only affects you during your hours of sleep? The answer is no. Even if the direct impact of this disease occurs in your lungs and brain (causing fatigue), there are also some associations with kidney and cardiac issues, as well as metabolic syndromes just like diabetes (high blood sugar).

Some of the most known complications of sleep apnea are:


-High blood pressure: Due to low oxygen levels during sleep hours, there is a sympathetic response in your body: this means that it keeps active instead of resting as it should be, which can cause rises in blood pressure.


-Heart attack: The exaggerated sympathetic response in the body not only increases heart rate, it also raises the energetic heart demands. If the person suffers from atherosclerosis (which is common among patients with obesity), there is a higher risk that it can lead to sudden cardiac death.


-Heart failure: The constant sympathetic response can generate disruptions in the cells of the heart. These disruptions can then multiply and cause hypertrophy and heart failure.


-Arrhythmia: Different clinical trials have suggested that OSA could be connected to arrhythmias, and especially atrial fibrillation. However, these studies might be confounding and whether the relationship is causal remains unclear.

Can sleep apnea kill you

It can be said that untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of all cardiovascular diseases, due to its extensive role in stressing and damaging the cells of the cardiac muscle.


-Type 2 diabetes: A meta‐analysis showed that diabetes is more prevalent among OSA patients, and systematic review showed that more than half of diabetes patients suffer from OSA. Even if it is not clear what is the exact cause, the sympathetic activity produced by OSA can lead to secretion of hormones like adrenaline that can impact the metabolic reactions in the long term.


-Memory loss: Sleep is the most important step in memory consolidation—this is why doctors always recommend a good night’s sleep before an exam. When people suffer from sleep apnea there is a disruption in that cycle, which can lead to cognitive problems.


-Depression: Frequent snoring and pauses in breathing are associated with a greater likelihood of depression, according to a study in the journal Sleep. The risk of depression was significantly higher for people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.


-Adult asthma: Both pulmonary diseases have been associated over time. The narrowing of the airway caused by asthma can worsen the sleep apnea symptoms and complications in the long term. Sleep apnea, on the other hand, can worsen asthma symptoms.


-Daytime sleepiness: Because of a lack of restorative sleep at night, people with obstructive sleep apnea often experience severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability. Which can lead to bad days at work and problems with family and friends.


-Metabolic syndrome: Metabolic syndrome is a disorder characterized by abdominal obesity, hypertension, increased triglycerides and cholesterol. It is common in patients with OSA, most likely because obesity is a shared risk factor.


-Problems after surgery: People with OSA are more likely to have unintended postoperative complications, which can prolong hospital stay times and increase healthcare expenses.


These are just some of the health conditions that have been strongly linked to sleep apnea. Even if many of these conditions only manifest after many years, now is the perfect moment to find the right solution. Sleeplay gives you a full orientation on what to do from the moment you get your diagnosis until you find the right treatment.


It is important to mention that this article is made only with informational purposes, remember to ask your physician.

Can Sleep Apnea Kill You?


Much like any medical ailment, sleep apnea comes with its own set of risks and dangers.  But can it actually be life-threatening? Based on probabilistic studies and statistics we’ll answer that question.


OSA is one of the most common sleep disorders worldwide affecting around 10-30% of all Americans. However, most people suffer from a mild to moderate type that causes fatigue and sleepiness during the day, but won’t lead to a life-threatening complication on its own.


The truth is that health and life expectancy varies a lot based on each person’s characteristics. If—due to lifestyle factors or your family history—you have a risk of suffering from diabetes, hypertension, asthma or obesity, sleep apnea could  make you develop those complications faster.


But it is not an immediate process. It can take months to years for those problems to start producing symptoms. That’s also why getting a medical opinion is so important: every human body and clinical case is completely different.


There is no doubt that there is an increased risk of sudden death when compared with a group of people without sleep apnea, but it truly does not occur that often. This can happen mostly in older patients (˃70),  and it can be avoided with proper medical advice and receiving the right treatment (which can reduce those possibilities to almost 0).

How Can You Treat Sleep Apnea


There are many sleep apnea treatment options you should consider, from home remedies to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy or even surgery. The approach that you and your healthcare provider decide to take is going to depend on the type of sleep apnea you have, what’s causing it and how severe it is.


Usual treatment options for sleep apnea include:

Lifestyle Changes

First of all, to reduce sleep apnea and the risk of heart disease you can apply changes in your lifestyle. These can include weight loss, and eating healthy foods that can decrease cholesterol and triglycerides like avocados, broccoli, carrots, salmon, tuna, and halibut: these are heart-healthy foods due to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.


Also, regular exercise can help you have a healthier body and mind. Exercise can assist with sleep apnea by aiding weight loss, toning throat muscles, enhancing sleep quality, and promoting cardiovascular health. It can also reduce stress and inflammation, indirectly benefiting sleep.

CPAP Therapy

This is the most used and most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, especially for people who are experiencing excessive daytime drowsiness. It prevents respiratory collapse events by maintaining a positive airway pressure so no obstructions will occur while you sleep, reverting the problem during the entire night.


CPAP machines are very popular as a method for treating sleep apnea and ensuring a restful sleep. These machines use a hose connected to a mask or nose piece to deliver constant and steady pressurized air flow into the nose and mouth via an attached tube and mask.


Some people may need to get a surgical procedure done if their sleep apnea is caused by excessive soft tissue in the upper airway. One of the most common surgeries done for this purpose is the uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. In this procedure part of the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils, and the adenoids are removed to open up the upper airways. It’s more effective in people with mild sleep apnea.

Changes in Sleep Position

Nowadays more than half of obstructive sleep apnea cases are dependent on position, which is why one of the most common home remedies for sleep apnea is a body positioning pillow or another similar device. In the majority of patients, just changing from back sleeping to side sleeping can dramatically reduce the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

Some people prefer to make their own positioner by securing a tennis ball or another item onto their back, which keeps them from turning while sleeping.

Oral Appliances

Another appropriate home remedy for sleep apnea is wearing an oral device that holds the tongue or lower jaw in a certain position to help facilitate adequate breathing. These products have high levels of effectiveness of at-home sleep apnea treatment, and they’re backed by a wealth of clinical research and testing.


This option can be especially valuable for children who have sleep apnea, as the repositioning of the mouth and jaws often has the added benefit of reducing—or even eliminating—the need for orthodontic treatment during their teenage years. It is important to mention that you will need a dentist's advice and prescription to get the right appliance for your characteristics.

As you can see, there are many treatment options to improve sleep apnea. However, most of them have only partial effects in the patients, or there is not enough scientific proof to consider them as the best treatment option. Weight loss, for example, is considered highly effective, but it can take months to obtain results and it’s not healthy to stay that entire time with the sleep apnea symptoms.


This is not the case with CPAP therapy, which is highly effective since the first day of use and it is considered by most doctors as the best treatment option for sleep apnea since 1981.

Some people are concerned that these machines can be noisy or uncomfortable to use during the night. At Sleeplay you can find the newest machines of the market, which are not noisy and have almost no side effects.


As a conclusion, even if sleep apnea can lead to serious complications, those complications usually take many years to appear, and to get to life threatening consequences such as cardiac arrest. That’s why it is so important to implement lifestyle changes that will treat not only the sleep apnea, but also the associated issues such as obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, or asthma.


Still, adding a CPAP machine will always be a good plan after being diagnosed with sleep apnea. CPAP therapy can help you get rid of the symptoms from day one, which does not occur with diet or exercise.


If you’re worried about your sleep apnea, in Sleeplay we have modern CPAP Machines to help you breathe and sleep better. Check out our products!

Medically reviewed: Gustavo Fernandez

Advanced medical student at the Central University of Venezuela. He has experience as a clinical observer in The Division of Respiratory Medicine at St. Paul's Hospital and participated in research related to respiratory diseases at the University of British Columbia (Canada).

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