A 2007 study from Yale University found that sleep apnea increases the risk of heart attack or death by 30% over a four- to five-year period. As the upper airway collapses and oxygen is cut off from the lungs, the body triggers a fight-or-flight response, which decreases blood flow to the heart. Together these two actions raise blood pressure and, over time, wear out the heart, the authors concluded.
"It's like someone strangling you"
"When sleep apnea patients come here, there's a real sense of disbelief," says Ralph Downey III, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Loma Linda University in California.
Sleep apnea also increases your risk for more immediate problems:
- It can lead to sleep deprivation, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory loss and concentration problems, and depression.
- It can aggravate other chronic conditions, such as chronic pain, asthma, and restless legs syndrome.
- Driving or operating machinery when you have untreated sleep apnea can be especially dangerous.