Sleep Apnea: Shorter Sleep, Higher Risk of Death

Sleep Apnea: Shorter Sleep, Higher Risk of Death

A new study finds that patients with sleep apnea who have short interruptions in breathing are at a significantly higher risk for death than those with longer interruptions.1

“This result seems counter-intuitive because you might expect longer periods of not breathing to be more severe,” said Matthew P. Butler, PhD, assistant professor in the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Studies at Oregon Health & Science University, and author of the study, in a press release.2

Obstructive ventilation in sleep apnea

Is the AHI a Good Indicator?

Sleep apnea is a serious condition where a person’s airway is collapsed during sleep. As a result, the individual to periodically stop breathing. This condition is linked to a number of comorbidities, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk of death. Sleep specialists use the apnea-hypopnea index, or the number of times a patient stops breathing per hour of sleep, to determine the severity of sleep apnea.

The new study challenges this method by suggesting that in addition to how many breathing interruptions occur, it is also important to determine how long each one lasts.

The Research

Researchers analyzed the records of 5712 adults with an average age of 63. These patients all participated in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Sleep Heart Healthy Study. There were an equal number of men and women enrolled in the 11-year study.

In summary, the study found:1

  • Patients with the shortest apneas were 31% more likely to die during the decade-long follow-up.
  • Within the group classified as having moderate sleep apnea, patients with the shortest duration of breathing events had a 59% increased risk of dying.

How Does This Impact You?

The most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP therapy. However, some patients find the machine and the mask combo uncomfortable and choose not to use it if their sleep apnea is not severe. Mild or moderate sleep apnea patients are at a minimum, equal to or at greater risk of death as severe sufferers. CPAP remains the most effective and least invasive therapy available. Therefore, use it consistently in even the most moderate of cases.

The CPAP Shop has a team of experts ready to answer all your questions regarding CPAP therapy and products. Give us a call at 866-414-9700.

1. Butler MP, Emch JT, Rueschman M, et al. Apnea-hypopnea event duration predicts mortality in men and women in the Sleep Heart Healthy Study. Amer J Resp Crit Care Med. 2018 Oct 19.
2. Length of each breathing disruption in sleep apnea may predict mortality risk better than number of breathing disruptions [press release]. American Thoracic Society. 2018 Oct 16.

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Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.