What are the effects of sleep apnea?

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People often ask “Can you die from sleep apnea?”

The answer is Yes – but not directly.1  When you have sleep apnea, your breathing stops while you sleep. This is called an ‘apnea’. Your brain senses a reduced oxygen level in your blood so it wakes you up so you start to breathe again. Every time you have an apnea, your blood pressure spikes and your heart rate increases until eventually you take a breath. This can happen many times a night without you even knowing. As you can imagine, this is not great for your health.2

Due to the links with serious medical conditions, severe sleep apnea may be associated with a shortened lifespan.3

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What are the effects of sleep apnea?

Whether it’s mild, moderate or severe, sleep apnea has disruptive effects on your body, disturbing your sleep-wake cycle as well as your blood and brain chemistry. Sleep apnea can affect your mood, lead to weight gain, daytime sleepiness, headaches, and memory problems.4

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Effects of untreated sleep apnea

Risk of Accidents

Evidence suggests that people with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a motor vehicle accident compared to other drivers.5

The study also found that by treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy (for at least 4 hours per night) significantly reduced this risk.5


If you snore and experience mood problems and/or daytime sleepiness, these could be the effects of untreated sleep apnea.

21.5% of people with sleep apnea experience mood problems although women with sleep apnea are more likely to report mood disturbances than men.6

Daytime sleepiness

People with sleep apnea are often very sleepy during the daytime. This isn’t surprising when you consider how their sleep is being constantly interrupted.

Daytime sleepiness puts you at risk of accidents. People with sleep apnea are 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a car accident.5

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How to reduce your cardiovascular risks8

Australia’s National Heart foundation recommends 7 steps to effectively reduce cardiovascular risks:

Quit smoking

Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke. 

Eat healthy food

Eat healthy food increasing fruit and vegetables, reducing saturated fat and limiting salt. 

Reduce alcohol

Reduce alcohol to no more than 2 standard drinks a day. 

Get active

Get active, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. 

Achieve a healthy weight

Achieve a healthy weight by reducing kilojoule intake and increasing physical activity. 

Reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol

Reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol if it’s raised. Your doctor can test and advise you on this. 

Control your blood pressure

Get a blood pressure monitor and aim for a blood pressure of less than 130/80mmHg. Your doctor can advise you about ways to control your blood pressure.

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1. Source: https://www.sleepapnea.org/carrie-fisher-yes-you-can-die-from-sleep-apnea accessed 25 June 2019.

2. Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/symptoms-causes/syc-20377631 accessed 25 June 2019.

3. Source: Young T et al. Sleep 2008;31(8):1071–8.

4. Source: Engleman HM, Douglas NJ. Thorax. 2004 Jul; 59(7):618-22.

5. Source: https://aasm.org/risk-of-motor-vehicle-accidents-is-higher-in-people-with-sleep-apnea/ accessed 24 June 2019

6. Source: Aker J et al. Sleep Breath. 2017 May;21(2):311-318.

7. Source: https://www.georgeinstitute.org/media-releases/sleep-apnea-treatment-improves-wellbeing-no-cardiovascular-benefit accessed 24 June 2019.

8. Source:https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Reducing-risk-in-heart-disease.pdf accessed 25 June 2019.

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