- Sufferers snore, choke, and gasp 20 to 30 times every hour throughout the night
- It deprives the body of oxygen and raises your risk of stroke and heart attacks
- READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE – Do YOU laugh maniacally in your sleep?
One in five Americans has a potentially deadly sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop, potentially cutting off oxygen to the brain.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep-related condition where breathing stops and starts through the night, putting the body at risk of dangerously depriving it of vital oxygen.
Sufferers snore, choke, and gasp 20 to 30 times every hour throughout the night and, as a result, unknowingly and repeatedly wake up, which means the body does not get enough rest.
While some people may not even realize they have the condition, others are alerted by their partners, who tell them they are gasping for air during sleep. A test is also usually conducted to diagnose sleep apnea, during which a person is hooked up to equipment that monitors breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels while they sleep.
When breathing stops for 10 seconds or more at a time, oxygen levels in the blood fall, increasing the risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks down the line.
As part of treatment for sleep apnea, patients often have to wear a device called a continuous positive airway pressure machine – or a CPAP machine – when they sleep.
Approximately 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with the condition, including President Joe Biden.
In June, the White House revealed Biden, 80, had started using a CPAP machine to treat his sleep apnea after he was spotted with visible indentations on his face that many speculated were from the machine.
Indents on President Joe Biden’s face in June prompted the White House to tell journalists he had started to use a CPAP machine
CPAP masks come in various styles and sizes to accommodate different preferences and facial structures. The locations of the lines on President Biden’s face suggest he is using a full-face mask like the one pictured above
The machine provides a steady flow of pressurized air into the nose and mouth and keeps airways open to optimize breathing while asleep.
A study published Tuesday in JAMA found consistent use of a CPAP machine protects against cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals — something that has been highly debated.
It found that using the CPAP machine for more than four hours during sleep reduced the risk of a stroke, heart attack or cardiac arrest.
While loud and interrupted snoring is a common tell of the condition, not all people with sleep apnea snore. However, if snoring is punctuated with abrupt halts in breathing and bouts of choking or gasping during sleep, as well as excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and high blood pressure, it may indicate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea, affecting an estimated one in five American adults, though many cases go undiagnosed.
People with severe OSA, who wake up more than 30 times per hour, have an increased risk of dying from any cause, cutting up to a decade off their lives.
People with moderate OSA, who awaken between 15 and 30 times per hour, are 72 percent more likely to die.
The higher risk of heart attacks and strokes for people with sleep apnea is the main driver of the increased mortality risk.
Another type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, which occurs when the brain does not send the signals needed to breathe.
Overall, men are two to three times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women, though obesity and advanced age are the biggest risk factors.
The condition occurs when the muscles that support the throat relax and the airway narrows and collapses, meaning air can’t flow into or out of the nose or mouth.
When this happens, breathing can stop for 10 seconds or more at a time until reflexes kick in and jolt breathing back on pace, often without the person realizing anything had happened, though they may notice a pattern of dry mouth and lingering fatigue when they awake.
Trying to inhale against a collapsed airway ultimately denies the body crucial oxygen.
While normal blood oxygenation levels hover around 90 to 95 percent, an apneatic sleeper can see those levels plummet to the 80s and even the 70s.
Oxygen saturation levels will typically return to normal once breathing resumes, but for a person with OSA who breathes erratically at all hours of the night, there can be lasting health harm.
For instance, frequent drops in blood oxygen concentrations have been shown to increase blood pressure, driving rates of hypertension.
In fact, high blood pressure and sleep apnea go hand-in-hand. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of people with sleep apnea have hypertension and OSA can make high blood pressure worse.
People with OSA are also more prone to heart attacks. The American Thoracic Society reports that people with untreated sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop a heart attack later in life as people without OSA.
Among all Americans admitted to the hospital for coronary artery disease – a condition marked by a buildup of cholesterol inside arteries that narrows the blood vessels and blocks the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart – 70 percent have been found to have OSA.
Older people are more likely to have sleep apnea. The older a person is, the more severe the effects of sleep apnea may be, as research indicates the condition drastically increases risks associated with age-related cardiovascular changes, such as a higher risk of heart attack.