Along with all the best health advice out there, getting a good night’s sleep is a common refrain. But what about if you have trouble getting that good sleep? Millions of Americans have sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness. A new study reveals some major repercussions: the risk of death is more than twice as high in older adults who have both of these issues. It’s a sobering dose of health news.
They found that older adults with moderate to severe sleep apnea who reported excessive daytime sleepiness were more than twice as likely to die as those with neither problem. The adults were on average 78 years old, and 55% died during a follow-up period of 14 years.
This is a significant health risk that influences mortality. Sleep apnea can cut a person’s life short. It affects up to 20% of older adults. Its most common incarnation is “obstructive” sleep apnea, whereby the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the upper airway during sleep. “Central” sleep apnea involves a repetitive absence of breathing effort during sleep caused by a dysfunction in the central nervous system or the heart.
The study involved 289 adults, half of whom had significant levels of excessive daytime sleepiness, reporting that they felt sleepy or struggled to stay awake during the daytime at least three to four times a week. According to the researchers, the mechanism by which sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness increase the risk of death is unclear. They suspect that inflammation may be involved, which could increase the risk of other medical problems such as hypertension.
It also remains to be seen if treatment reduces the risk of death. The main treatment for sleep apnea is “CPAP therapy.” This provides a steady stream of air through a mask that is worn during sleep. This airflow keeps the airway open to prevent pauses in breathing and restore normal oxygen levels.
To help yourself, you can shed pounds (even a slight drop in weight can relieve a constricted throat), avoid alcohol and drugs that relax your throat muscles, sleep on your side at night, and try keeping your nasal passages open at night with a nasal spray or nasal strips.