Sleep apnea side effects are varied and many of them have serious consequences including death. The condition is associated with a wide range of health complications, both long and short term, that not only jeopardize daytime quality of life but also play a pivotal role in inviting a host of other dangerous illnesses and health calamities.
Here are a few instances of some common side effects of sleep apnea and their impact on overall health and quality of life of the individual.
Sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness
One of the most prominent signals of sleep apnea is excessive daytime sleepiness. This is not only most noticeable but also one of the most dangerous as it can easily lead to increased chances of road accidents, injuries, etc. One study reviewed the implication of this effect on the daily life of apnea patients and found that there is a 2 to 3-fold increase in the chances of road accidents when one suffers from sleep apnea. The risk of experiencing multiple mishaps increases five to seven times.
Sleep apnea and weight gain
While obesity is one of the prime triggers for the onset of sleep apnea (close to 70% of diagnosed patients are either obese or overweight), unexplained increase in body weight is also one of its effects. It has been observed that gaining excess weight in the trunk as well as the neck areas of the body could result in breathing problems during sleep. This happens due to the effect of excess weight on respiratory system.
The reason why a person with sleep apnea gains excess weight is understandable when you understand the impact reduced sleep has both on the body and mind. When you do not get good sleep, you are bound to be tired throughout the day. this prevents you from doing any physical exercise and chances are that you are not even motivated enough to control your diet. When you continue with this lifestyle, weight gain is a natural consequence, which in turn aggravates the apnea condition further where the sleeplessness continues.
Sleep apnea can also upset the balance of appetite-related hormones (Leptin and Ghrelin) which contribute to weight gain. The two hormones play two different roles in the management of appetite and satiety. Leptin controls the feeling of fullness after intake of foods. Sleep apnea results in the fall in levels of Leptin. This results in the patient never feeling satiated or full and continues to eat in excess. On the other hand, the levels of Ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry increases, when you have sleep apnea. When these two effects combine, the result is weight gain. It is important to remember here that the rise and fall of these hormones are directly linked to poor sleep.
Researchers are not too sure whether obesity or sleep apnea arrives first, but the fact remains that increase in body weight can pave the way for several heart conditions, including stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, ischemic heart ailments, irregularity of heart beats and more. Such heart-related side effects of sleep apnea are closely linked to obesity. Studies have also proved that sleep apnea can lead to heart diseases, even if the patient is not obese
Sleep apnea and heart disease
Though no direct causal relationship between sleep apnea and heart ailments have been established yet, but their close association has been proved time and again.
How does sleep apnea impact the heart? Breathing pauses or apnea episodes instantly results in the fall of oxygen levels and build-up of carbon dioxide in the brain. This triggers an almost-instant reaction from the heart which puts in extra effort to reduce this level. This results in increase of heart beat or palpitation. When such situations repeat many times over the night, the functioning of the heart is majorly affected; pumping ability deteriorates, the valves become weaker. This causes increase of blood pressure which is also a main trigger for causing strokes, heart attacks, ischemic heart problems and worst of all – it could even result in death.
Another way sleep apnea causes heart problems is by dispensing cortisone as well as raising the levels of C-reactive protein.
Sleep apnea and stroke risk
Strokes are caused by diminished supply of blood to the heart which results in clot formation in the arteries. This kind of outcome is common with patients of sleep apnea, 40 to 60% of who suffer strokes.
Sleep apnea and high blood pressure
Diminished oxygen in the blood also affects pulmonary function by way of constricting the blood vessels. This causes rise in blood pressure, which beyond a certain limit could result in heart failure.
Sleep apnea and diabetes
Several studies have been done to establish the link between these two ailments. In fact, it could work both ways (9). Recurrent breathing pauses may result in poor rate of glucose tolerance, which can gradually promote gaining excess weight, which could make sleep apnea more serious. There is link between obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea. In the Sleep AHEAD study, it was revealed that undiagnosed sleep apnea was present in 86% of subjects suffering from type 2 diabetes.
A possible reason for the onset of diabetes in apnea patients could be the effect of apnea in maintaining blood glucose levels. While a large number of people affected by type 2 diabetes also suffer from sleep apnea, the rationale of the linkage has been attributed to major sleep fragmentation interspersed by hypoxia and less quantity of sleep having detrimental effects on the metabolism of blood glucose levels.
Another hypothesis regarding diabetes being one of the important sleep apnea side effects is that during apnea episodes, there is an increased production of cortisol hormone which in turn leads to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and create pre-diabetic conditions. These are conditions which are most likely to develop into diabetes, if you do not treat them on time. An important contributor to this development is diminished level of oxygen in the blood.
Other effects of sleep apnea include asthma, pulmonary hypertension, seizures, glaucoma, etc.
Impact of sleep apnea on quality of life
Sleep apnea and impotence
Apart from the adverse effect of this sleep disorder on family and relationships, the sex life of both the partners can be majorly affected. If the male partner is affected by sleep apnea, he may show lack of interest in sex as well as suffer from erectile dysfunction. This happens because sleep apnea interferes with levels of testosterone (male sex hormone). Women too suffer from lack of interest in sex, when they have sleep apnea.
Nocturia (waking up several times in the night for urination) is another, rather inconvenient effect of sleep apnea. Headaches can also come in the way of quality of life, if it happens almost every morning. Though they are present only for a few hours after waking, it still remains a frequent complaint from apnea patients.
How sleep apnea affects the mind
At first glance sleep apnea may appear to be an illness that focuses on the body. The various causes and symptoms would make most of us believe that to be true. But sleep apnea also impacts the psychological health of the individual. Here are some of the psychological effects of sleep apnea:
- Depression (risk increases by 60%)
- Loss of memory (both short and long term)
- Becoming quick-tempered
- Impaired thinking ability
- Diminished alertness
- Sense of detachment (called brain fog)
Sleep apnea and depression
Lack of sleep can result in a host of mental illnesses. However, the relationship is rather complex. For example, poor sleep could cause depression. On the other hand, a depressed patient could also have major sleep problems. An individual could develop depressive symptoms because he or she has an undiagnosed underlying sleep disorder; patients who have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder could also display symptoms of depression.
In a study, involving 10000 adults, published in the journal SLEEP, it was observed that chances of developing depression increased substantially, when the patient simultaneously shows sleep apnea symptoms. Repeated cessations of breathing cause cellular oxygen levels to drop. This can in turn affect both the physical and mental health of the individual.