How does sleep apnoea impact your health?

Everyone understands the importance of getting a good night's sleep. But, if you have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), the quality of sleep you're managing to get may not leave you feeling as refreshed as it should be. Over the long term, this lack of quality sleep can negatively impact various areas of your body and your way of life, leading to symptoms like daytime sleepiness, mental health-related issues and an overall weakened immune system. In this article, we'll take a more detailed look at how OSA affects your health and teach you how to control its treatment and management.

What is sleep apnoea?

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which patients stop breathing for short periods while they're asleep, disrupting their overall quality of sleep.

Often associated with loud snoring, grunting or choking sounds, OSA is prevalent in men over 50, post-menopausal women and people with an enlarged tongue or tonsils, oronasal conditions or short stature.

Research also shows that people who smoke or drink regularly have a higher chance of developing OSA due to the relaxing impact these lifestyle choices can have on the muscles in the back of the throat.

How does sleep apnoea impact the body?

While it may be more commonly affiliated with sleep-related issues, like fatigue and daytime sleepiness, OSA can contribute to a wide variety of other long-term health risks when left untreated.

Cardiovascular health

One of the significant health concerns associated with OSA is its impact on cardiovascular health.

According to the Sleep Foundation, for instance, since OSA stops you from breathing when you sleep, this causes your heart rate to slow.

However, when your brain kicks in to make you breathe again, this causes your heart rate to accelerate and your blood pressure to spike, putting an increased strain on your heart and raising your risk of conditions like hypertension, heart failure, stroke and irregular heartbeat.

Repeated pauses in breathing during the night can also reduce your overall blood oxygen level. The pauses can not only limit the supply of oxygen that reaches your vital organs but also increase inflammation levels in your body, potentially damaging the blood vessels.

Weight fluctuations

People with obesity or a BMI of over 28 kg/m2 may already have an increased risk of getting OSA, but without intervention, they also have a higher likelihood of gaining more weight because of it.

Researchers believe the weight gain may be due to the impact of sleep quality on leptin – a hormone your body releases to help maintain your weight long-term.

Put simply, when you don’t get enough good quality sleep, your body cannot produce enough of this hormone, which can make it harder for you to control your appetite and lose weight successfully.

This hormone lack, combined with the impact of daytime fatigue on decreased physical activity levels, can lead to weight gain over the long term, raising your risk of various other health conditions.

Mental health

Living with OSA has also been found to promote feelings of anxiety and depression in certain people.

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, for example, discovered that – of 284 patients with OSA – approximately 16% had persistent mild depression, whereas 6% had major depression.

That said, however, other studies have shown that specific treatments for OSA, such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), could reverse depression and lead to an improved quality of life for patients.

Neurological health

OSA can impact more than just your mental health – it can also negatively affect your cognitive function.

Symptoms like headaches are commonly associated with the condition, mainly due to reduced levels of oxygen going to your brain. It can be especially noticeable when waking up to start the day.

However, research has also shown that OSA impacts memory consolidation and concentration while also impairing certain motor skills, such as making decisions, thinking clearly and solving problems effectively.

Other health impacts

While the health conditions mentioned above may be more typically associated with OSA, living with the condition can have various other impacts on your body.

For example, having OSA can increase your risk of conditions and health-related issues like:

  • Type 2 diabetes – OSA can interfere with the body's ability to regulate and metabolise glucose, which, over time, can raise your risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Digestive system – having OSA has been associated with a higher likelihood of digestive-related issues, like fatty liver disease, liver scarring, heartburn and acid reflux.

  • Glaucoma – while the link between glaucoma and OSA remains unknown, some experts believe reduced blood oxygen levels can cause problems with your vision.

  • Metabolic syndrome – increased risks of hypertension, high cholesterol, blood sugar and weight gain can all contribute towards a higher likelihood of metabolic syndrome.

  • Road accidents – a study found that people with OSA are approximately 2.5 times more likely to be involved in road accidents than those without the condition.

  • Reduced libido – studies have shown that people with OSA have an increased incidence of sexual dysfunction and a decreased desire to have sex.

With links to so many health conditions, getting diagnosed with OSA is an essential first step in taking ownership of your health.

However, herein lies the critical issue – most cases of OSA in the UK remain undiagnosed. In fact, of the 3.9 million UK adults estimated to have OSA, approximately only 20% are diagnosed and on a suitable treatment plan.

Therefore, if you are concerned you could have symptoms of OSA, it’s vital to consult a healthcare professional like our team at OneWelbeck.

Sleep apnoea: take control with OneWelbeck

At OneWelbeck, we have already helped hundreds of people living with OSA ensure their sleep benefits their overall health.

Through our Sleep Studies diagnostic pathway programme, we can specifically analyse your breathing and sleep behaviour to determine whether you have OSA through a dedicated sleep study.

After analysing your results, we can work with you to create a tailored treatment plan around your exact circumstances to help minimise your long-term risk.

To learn more about this programme or to get started diagnosing your suspected OSA, please contact our team – we’d be more than happy to help.