A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

You snooze you lose: Sleep apnea affects overall health

Photo of a male sleeping

Don’t snooze on sleep apnea. It affects your vital organs and overall health.

Sleep apnea continues to be a bit of an under-the-radar medical issue. “More has been learned about sleep apnea over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Dr. Amit Biswas, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Health System neurologist and sleep medicine specialist. “But there is still hesitancy by people to either get help or even be diagnosed.”

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes causing a blocking of the airway. A less common central sleep apnea also can occur, which causes breathing problems due to a lack of central nervous system signaling.

“Recently, over the last decade-plus we have learned a lot more about sleep apnea, its recognized effect on organs and just how common it actually is,” he said. “More severe sleep apnea comes with more medical issues and complications.”

Biswas said doctors are trying to make people more aware of sleep apnea’s effects on pivotal organs and overall health. He says that if you are worried or show signs of sleep apnea, don’t just let it go. Get tested.

“A lot of people disregard or don’t believe how serious sleep apnea is,” Biswas said. “We’re still learning a lot about it, but we know a lot more now. Some still refuse treatment because they just aren’t aware of the long-term risks it has if untreated.”

Sleep apnea is more common in men than women, with about twice as many men impacted.

Biswas said healthy eating also is important for people batting this medical issue, since fatty tissues around the neck can make sleep apnea worse. Fat around the neck closes the upper airways and depletes oxygen to the heart and brain and puts more burden on vital organs. “It makes people more susceptible to heart attack or respiratory failure,” he said.

Signs that this may be an issue for you include loud snoring and snoring related issues, problems with breathing during sleep, gasping when waking up, waking up with headache, disrupted sleep or waking up feeling unrested.

If you have concerns about your sleep heath, talk with your primary care provider to receive a referral to sleep medicine.

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