Is Sleep Apnea Killing You Slowly While You Sleep?

According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders, over 38,000 of the heart-related deaths that occur in the US annually are connected to sleep apnea in one way or another. That’s right; annoying your partner might not be the worst effect of this disorder. Research now shows that people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of dying much earlier than individuals with normal sleeping patterns.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Also referred to as apnea, sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by periods of shallow breathing or pauses in normal breathing patterns. People with untreated sleep apnea cease breathing over and over again during their sleep; sometimes for hundreds of times, each episode lasting for a couple of seconds to a few minutes. Sleep apnea limits the amount of air reaching your lungs during your sleep. As a result, the brain and body become oxygen deprived, and people are often woken up by choking noises and loud snoring as your body tries to suck up enough air.

In most cases, this temporary pause in breathing is commonly caused by the tissue in the roof of the throat collapsing due to the muscles of the upper airway relaxing when you sleep. For many patients who sleep on their back, gravity pushes the tongue back towards the throat. This results in a dangerous narrowing of the airway that cuts down an optimum supply of air to the lungs. The habitual loud snoring associated with sleep apnea is due to the tissue at the back of the throat vibrating as you breathe. People who suffer from sleep apnea wake up feeling fatigued and tired even after a full night’s sleep. During the day, they may have plenty of difficulties concentrating and may even fall asleep unintentionally. The reason for this is that while you might not be conscious of every single awakening, waking up numerous times throughout the night is not good for your health.

The lack of sufficient oxygen to your body every night can also have long-term consequences for your health and well-being. If undiagnosed and untreated, sleep apnea can also lead to severe ailments and in the worst case scenario – death.

Different Ways How Sleep Apnea Can Kill You

Now, one thing that you need to understand is that no one actually dies directly from sleep apnea. It’s not as simple as choking to death in the middle of the night or never awakening from an epic, air deprived event. The same way that people don’t die directly from Aids or Cancer, the same is true for sleep apnea. What gets you are all the other sleep apnea related issues and associated conditions.

However, studies and research show that people with sleep apnea tend to have increased mortality (don’t live as long) and also experience higher incidents of hypertension, heart attacks, depression, obesity, heart disease, strokes and even car accidents. While people with normal sleeping patterns are resting and rejuvenating at night, the bodies of individuals with sleep apnea are hard at work trying to breathe and stay alive. This directly leads to an increased heart rate and sympathetic drive. Couple all that with a nightly lack of oxygen and it’s no surprise why you don’t find too many old people with sleep apnea. Here are some of the associated conditions caused and accelerated by sleep apnea that can kill you instantly.

High Blood Pressure/ Hypertension

While there could be a million other factors that could cause high blood pressure, sleep apnea has been proven to cause it and accelerate it in people with the condition. Waking up in the middle of the night hundreds of times and not getting enough oxygen to your body causes stress. This pushes the hormones in overdrive and boosts blood pressure levels to compensate for the decreased oxygen levels. If untreated, the high blood pressure or hypertension could lead to health deterioration and even death. Instead of focusing solely on the high blood pressure, people with sleep apnea should treat the sleeping disorder first to get the best results. Treating sleep apnea has even contributed to some patients reducing their intake of BP meds.

Heart Disease/ Heart Attack

People with sleep apnea are very likely to have more than one heart condition and suffer from numerous heart attacks in the span of their lives. This primarily caused by the lack of sufficient oxygen reaching the body as well as the resulting increase in the heart rate. Combined with a fast, fluttering heartbeat, the low oxygen intake disrupts the normal operation of the heart, making it very hard for the brain to control blood flow. More than one million people in the US alone suffer from heart attacks every year. More than half of them do not live through their second attack. Leaving sleep apnea, untreated could accelerate the period between heart attacks and end your life in an instant.


Over 70 percent of people with diabetes in the US also suffer from diagnosed and undiagnosed sleep apnea. Research has shown that not getting the right amount of sleep can affect your body’s ability to produce and utilize certain hormones in your body. One of these includes insulin that is responsible for helping with storage and usage of sugar and fat. Factors such as obesity and excessive weight could also accelerate the situation. Treat your sleep apnea to ensure that you get a great night’s rest to prevent the fatal effects of diabetes.


Whether driving, working or operating heavy machinery, people with sleep apnea have been known to fall asleep all of a sudden unintentionally. The problem is very common in the form of microsleep and affects everyone; whether you have sleep apnea or not. However, almost all individuals with sleep apnea suffer from this condition. Imagine trying to drive or work after weeks of restless and insufficient sleep levels. Sleep deprivation can lead to loss of attention and concentration. When it comes to driving, sleep apnea is responsible for thousands of car accidents every year. Treating the sleeping disorder ensures that individuals wake up feeling refreshed and well rested; able to concentrate on their driving and other activities.

Other Dangerous Effects of Sleep Apnea Include:

  • Strokes
  • Depression
  • Accelerated ADHD
  • Migraines
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Acid Reflux

Final Word

Whether directly or indirectly, evidence shows that there is no doubt about how deadly sleep apnea can be. In addition to putting your health in harm’s way, untreated sleep apnea can lead to severe ailments that will threaten your life. While these life-threatening health problems are indeed scary and worrying, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to developments in science and technology, there are lots of ways that sleep apnea can be treated. You are not alone; millions of people with the same condition have already been diagnosed and received treatment for their apnea. Treatment includes and varies from simple medications and oral appliances to more sophisticated but permanent measures such as surgery and use of CPAP machines. It’s up to you to seek diagnosis and medical attention early enough before the situation escalates and becomes life threatening.