If you suffer from sleep apnea, you already know this condition brings a long list of regular symptoms. These may include daily fatigue, morning headache, and an overall mental fogginess that you just can’t seem to shake. In addition to these daily symptoms, the long-term effects of sleep apnea are serious and worth paying attention to. Here are seven major long-term effects of sleep apnea, along with related conditions.
1. Sleep apnea increases the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFIB)
50% of all AFIB sufferers also have sleep apnea. That’s nearly one and a half million people in the U.S. alone with comorbid sleep apnea and AFIB.
AFIB is a serious heart condition where electrical signals in the brain fail to make the heart pump as it should. Blood pools slightly in the heart instead of pumping through it as normal. This increased blood can eventually cause a stroke (see below).
In addition to the stress of AFIB, the uneven oxygen flow of sleep apnea weakens the heart walls, potentially causing stress-related arrhythmia. Sleep apnea increases arrhythmia that can lead to stroke, with lack of sleep triggering AFIB.
2. Obstructive sleep apnea contributes to dementia
One of the primary markers of Alzheimer’s disease is a protein called beta-amyloid. The more of this protein in the brain, the higher the risk of Alzheimer’s and the faster the potential cognitive decline.
In a healthy sleeper, the glymphatic system sweeps away excess beta-amyloid at night. Those with sleep apnea simply don’t have enough time spent sleeping deeply to clear it away. Those with sleep apnea can also have thinning left and right temporal lobes, both of which are also found in Alzheimer’s patients.
3. Sleep apnea is linked to mood disorders
The link between sleep apnea and depression is astonishing. One study in 2017 found that 50% of clinically depressed patients had severe sleep apnea, and nearly all of the remaining patients had some level of sleep apnea.
But there’s more. Sleep apnea patients are 18 times more likely to suffer from anxiety than people without sleep apnea. Those with more severe sleep apnea suffer from more severe anxiety. This is the same with sleep apnea and depression.
Poor sleep triggers both clinically significant depression and anxiety. Because sleep apnea actually changes the way our brain works (see below), these conditions are inextricably linked to each other.
4. Half of all fibromyalgia patients have obstructive sleep apnea
Fibromyalgia is a widespread pain condition that affects an estimated 2-6% of people worldwide. This incidence may