While sleep apnea can occur in any age group, evidence shows that with increasing age comes the increased likelihood of sleep apnea. If an individual already has sleep apnea, the severity may also increase with age. Often many of the symptoms associated with dementia in older people may be related to sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea.
Also, because aging and sleep apnea often go hand in hand, it is not uncommon for dementia to be misdiagnosed for symptoms that might be sleep-related. Drowsiness during the day and the impairment of cognitive functions may be misidentified as early-onset dementia.
Sleep apnea may also accelerate the aging process. Consistent sleep deprivation begins to degrade the body the same way that aging does.
Effects Of Sleep Apnea on Aging
On the cellular level sleep loss begins to have an impact. The science of epigenetics studies the changes that can happen in our DNA because of lifestyle and environmental factors. These changes can affect how genes behave but do not change the sequence of the genes themselves, So, existing genes for conditions like dementia exist at the cellular level, but sleep deprivation may be accelerating the path to the early development of the condition.
Researchers have found that regardless of factors like body mass index, geographic location, socio-demographics, or health behaviors, worse sleep-disordered breathing severity was associated with faster epigenetic age acceleration.
Changes in Your Body During Sleep Apnea
Chronic sleep apnea begins to have an impact on overall health that can become long-term issues.
Adult asthma: sleep apnea can worsen asthma symptoms and your risk of asthma complications.
High blood pressure: sleep apnea increases your risk for high blood pressure.
Heart problems: sleep apnea has been linked to heart failure, stroke, and irregular heart rhythm.
Weakened immune system: sleep loss from sleep apnea can weaken the immune system and leave you vulnerable to more infections.
Liver problems: sleep apnea has been associated with fatty liver disease and higher than average liver enzymes.
High blood sugar: People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. If you already have Type 2 diabetes, sleep loss from sleep apnea can make it worse.
Low blood oxygen levels: sleep apnea over time can deprive your body of essential oxygen, which can impact the health of body tissue and organ tissue.
Mental health issues: Sleep apnea can lead to depression, mental confusion, poor concentration, and memory loss.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Age?
Sleep apnea accelerates what is known as biological aging, the cell breakdown that eventually leads to health problems in older age, muscle weakness, and cognitive function. When healthy sleep is deprived over the long term, we essentially get older quicker.
Many people who ignore their sleep apnea may think that their health problems are a natural occurrence of getting old. But people with sleep apnea left untreated may start to experience heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure at an earlier age. Early-onset dementia and other cognitive problems like memory loss and poor concentration may start to occur long before you are considered a senior citizen.
Breathing Disordered During Sleep Speeds Up the Aging Process
Breathing-disordered sleep essentially means that your breathing is interrupted while you sleep. Sleep apnea prevents deep sleep and the natural sleep cycle from occurring with periodic episodes in which the airway closes, causing sleep to be interrupted. When left untreated, breathing-disordered sleep starts to deprive the body of essential oxygen, and health issues ensue. The biological aging process becomes more rapid, and our bodies begin to degrade much sooner than they should.
Because sleep apnea is often left untreated, the aging process speeds up our physical and mental decline. Research has already linked sleep apnea to the rapid aging process.
Studies Regarding How Sleep Apnea Is Linked with Early Cell Aging
In research conducted by the University of Missouri School of Medicine,1 it was found that OSA-induced sleep disruptions and lower oxygen levels during sleep promoted faster biological age acceleration compared to the control group. However, the OSA patients who adhered to CPAP showed deceleration of the epigenetic age, while the age acceleration trends did not change for the control group.
The good news is that early cell aging is potentially reversible with the proper treatment of sleep apnea.
How CPAP Can Act as A Preventive Measure in Reversing the Aging Process
CPAP or continuous positive air pressure helps keep the airway open during sleep as a treatment for OSA. CPAP therapy is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It is non-invasive and used by millions of sleep apnea patients.
CPAP therapy uses a CPAP machine, prescribed by a doctor, to flow pressurized air through a hose and into a mask worn by the patient as they sleep. While the patient sleeps, the pressurized air keeps the airway open and prevents the episodic gasping for breath that occurs when the airway closes. Sleep stops being interrupted by the apneas. While CPAP therapy takes getting used to, most patients will find the results positive. Staying CPAP compliant simply means sticking to a consistent prescribed CPAP therapy routine while sleeping.
With CPAP, patients can begin to achieve the healthy sleep they need. Over time, healthy sleep raises blood oxygen levels and slows down tissue degradation. It also helps prevent the mental health issues associated with sleep deprivation.
That means that getting diagnosed with sleep apnea is the best solution for anyone who suspects that they are experiencing a sleeping disorder. With proper diagnosis comes proper treatment. CPAP therapy can help slow the body’s aging process. And, it may also assist in preventing other harmful diseases and conditions associated with sleep deprivation.
How Do I Know If I Have Sleep Apnea?
At Sleep Care Online, you can get a simple and convenient home sleep test to determine if you have sleep apnea. Here is how it works:
- With the Complete Care Package, schedule a 15-minute telehealth visit with a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms, upcoming sleep study, test results, and treatment options.
- A multi-night, disposable home sleep apnea test is mailed to your home to be completed at your convenience.
- A physician analyzes the sleep data and provides a prescription if needed.
- Schedule an optional follow-up appointment (additional fee applies).
- We connect you to sleep experts who can offer customized sleep therapy options, assistance in equipment purchase, and initial set-up.
- Everyday Health. Lee Kathrine. June 2019. Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea Linked to Accelerated Aging, New Study Finds