Sleep plays a vital role in the function of our brain as well as our physical body. Research has shown what sleep apnea does to your body, particularly if left untreated.
Untreated sleep apnea (OSA), can have substantial adverse short and in particular, long-term health consequences. Aside from keeping others awake, and disturbing your own sleep, sleep apnea can lead to many health-related problems and other serious medical issues.
In Australia, twice as many men as women affected by this common sleep disorder, mainly occurring in mid-life (although it can affect people at any age).
What Sleep Apnea Feels Like
The depth of severity for OSA varies from person to person. However, this condition is characterised by repeated collapse of the upper airway while sleeping, resulting in poor quality sleep, and in some cases, low blood oxygen levels.
Even short-term, this constant sleep disruption can negatively affect your physical body, mental abilities and emotional state (2).
You may feel:
- an increase in stress responses
- emotionally distressed, impatient or prone to mood swings
- somatic pain throughout the body (intense aching, cramping feelings)
- reduction in the quality of your life
- decision-making processes are more challenging
- impaired creativity
- short-term memory loss and poor memory performance
Additionally, for kids and teens affected by sleep apnea, their psychosocial health, cognitive functioning, school performance, and risk-taking behaviours are impacted, leaving them feeling overwhelmed.
The Long Term Effects of Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea is a serious medical condition, particularly if not treated over time. It is like rust eating a hole in a metal bucket. So many complications can start to occur with your body. Apart from the initial complaints of day-time fatigue, other serious consequences include the stress on your heart. This stress can happen in three ways:
- Blood pressure rises
- The heart rate climbs and in turn blood pressure increases
- A drop of blood oxygen (Hypoxemia) causes the release of stress hormones, which can lead to increased blood pressure during sleep and increased blood pressure the next day
And, over time, major heart conditions may also become evident. They include:
- arrhythmia(3) (problems with your heart’s electrical system)
- heart attack
- coronary artery disease and;
How Sleep Apnea Affects The Brain
As you can imagine, with these negative effects occurring in the body, the brain is also taking a toll on its function.
According to a sleep study in 2015, patients with untreated Sleep Apnea underwent physical changes to the brain’s area associated with memory formation(5). This study suggests that the memory tissue in the areas on the underside of the brain are affected. That memory problems may be permanent and have irreversible changes to the brain.
However, in a further study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, CPAP therapy’s effects had significantly improved brain function, after only three months of continual treatment(6).
What are Sleep Apnea Symptoms?
To summarise the symptoms of sleep apnea, and the indications that you are not getting quality sleep are:
- loud habitual snoring
- gasping or choking sounds during the night
- waking up more tired than before they went to bed the night before
- morning headaches
- having trouble with concentrating through the day & inattention
- memory problems
- lack of sexual desire
The good news is that it is possible to effectively treat this common sleep disorder and get healthy sleep and enjoy a healthier life. The key is to stop the Apneas and prevent the fall in the oxygen levels.
Are you or a loved one suffering from the symptoms of sleep apnea? Take our sleep apnea quiz to assess your risk. Talk to your doctor and find out more about testing for sleep apnea.
This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.