Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that effects around 12% of the adult population. It is characterised by pauses in breathing during sleep (the pauses are called apneas). The person’s throat constricts and blocks their airway, causing them to stop breathing. These apneas often go unnoticed by the sufferer but they disturb the person’s sleep and can have a huge range of serious consequences. A sleep apnea sufferer struggles to progress through the various stages of sleep, meaning that they do not benefit from the full sleep cycle.
Consequences of sleep apnea
Many of the consequences of sleep apnea have been known for a while and include cardiovascular consequences such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, atherosclerosis (heart attacks, angina), atherosclerosis (stroke), atrial fibrillation, ventricular arrhythmias and pulmonary hypertension as well as trauma (traffic accidents), snoring spouse syndrome, diminished libido, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), slowed growth, obesity, polycystic ovary disease, renal failure, hypothyroidism, Marfan syndrome, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, post-polio syndrome, gastro-esophageal reflux and a worsening of epilepsy.
Recent research has found that as well as the scarily long list above, a possible consequence of sleep apnea is glaucoma. A recent study found that people who suffer from sleep apnoea have an increased risk for glaucoma and should be screened for the eye disease.
The study looked at medical records of more than 1 000 people who were 40 and older and had been diagnosed with sleep apnoea, and compared them to a control group of more than 6 000 people of the same age who did not have sleep apnoea.
They found that people with sleep apnoea were around 1.67 times more likely to develop the most prevalent form t of glaucoma (known as open-angle glaucoma) within five years of their sleep apnoea diagnosis than those in the control group.
How and why?
Often, sleep apnea leads to severe hypoxemia (an abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood) and increases vascular resistance, which may influence the development of ganglion cell loss. According to the authors of the study, their research has “ demonstrated [obstructive sleep apnea] to be associated with several eye disorders, such as floppy eyelid syndrome, keratoconus, papilledema, optic neuropathy, filamentary or infectious keratitis, papillary conjunctivitis and glaucoma.”
What does this tell us?
As well as having an obvious impact for those people who suffer from sleep apnea this study has a wider import. What it tells the rest of us is how important sleep is for a wide range of health issues. Sleep apnea is a form of sleep disorder that plays havoc with the natural sleep cycle, it interrupts the person’s sleep and has a huge range of impacts on the body. This shows how important it is to get a good quality sleep every night, why it is essential to have good sleep practices, to make sure that we get a good quality and quantity of sleep each and every night. Even those without sleep apnea should see these findings as having an impact on them.
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