How Does Sleep Apnea Kill?

by Dr. Kenny Pang
People with untreated sleep apnea do not live as long as people without sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea has been called “the phantom cause of heart disease and sudden death”. Here’s why.

For the person with obstructive sleep apnea (also spelt as apnoea), nightmares tend to occur during the wee hours of the morning. And it’s not just about bad dreams: The time between midnight and 6am is also when people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are at the highest risk of sudden death. 

In fact, a person with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has a 6 times higher risk of dying between midnight and 6am compared to a non-apneic person. As a person with snoring and sleep apnea suffers numerous dips in oxygen levels while asleep, it is not surprising that he could also suffer significant stress to the heart and brain during these low-oxygen events. This in turn leads to high blood pressure, lack of oxygen in the blood, and hence, strokes, heart attack and sudden death.  

In general, people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have a higher death risk than the normal population. The price they pay includes a potentially crippling deterioration in daily functioning, an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke, depression, and death either in accidents or in their sleep. 

The family of a person with sleep apnea syndrome can also be affected, as the patient may experience irritability, mood changes, lowered sexual drive, and a reduction of intellectual ability. In addition, there could be major business, insurance, health, and social costs, including the loss of productivity, the impact of accidents caused by a driver or worker falling asleep while on the job, and health care dollars spent on alleviating problems like heart disease, if the underlying cause, which is sleep apnea, goes untreated. 

It is well known that patients with untreated sleep apnea do not live as long as people without sleep apnea. Medical research has shown that patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea (that is, patients who stop breathing more than 30 times per hour) have a mortality rate of about 3% per year. This means that these patients have a 30% chance of dying within the next 10 years (Marti et al). 

You may also like