The Consequences of Sleep Disorders Left Untreated
When left untreated, sleep disorders may have numerous adverse consequences on productivity, lifestyle, and health — both short and long term. Excessive daytime sleepiness and daytime fatigue may negatively impact school and work productivity, may be a cause of mood disorders like depression, or may result in a motor vehicle accident.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or sleep apnea may cause severe fragmentation of sleep and recurrent drops in the blood oxygen levels night after night. This restless and non-refreshing sleep also causes excessive daytime sleepiness, daytime fatigue, and trouble with memory, focus, and concentration.
Growing evidence suggests an association between sleep apnea and a number of chronic medical conditions including hypertension, diabetes, irregular heart rhythms, heart disease, and stroke. It is well understood that sleep apnea leads to chronic increases in blood pressure and reduced blood oxygen levels, putting recurrent stress on the heart. The risk of hypertension and diabetes, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in most ethnicities in the United States.
Proper treatment of sleep apnea can mitigate the risk of developing these disorders as well as improve outcomes in patients who are resistant to treatment with medications. At SleepMS, we are experts at diagnosing and treating the full range of sleep disorders.
Dr. Alex A Clerk is our qualified, trusted sleep doctor, with fellowship training from the prestigious Stanford University sleep medicine program and board certifications in both sleep medicine and neurology. Learn more about the risks of leaving sleep disorders untreated below, or schedule an appointment to sleep better and live better today.
What are the consequences of untreated sleep disorders?
Untreated sleep disorders can lead to numerous negative consequences, including the following.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
Decreased school and work productivity may result due to excessive sleepiness from untreated sleep disorders including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Sleep apnea is associated with a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. Individuals suffering from sleep apnea are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident compared to those without sleep apnea.
It is also evident that severe excessive daytime sleepiness, short sleep duration, and the use of sleeping pills in people with sleep apnea can further increase the risk of a motor vehicle accident. This risk can be mitigated if sleep apnea is adequately treated.
Hypertension is one of the most common chronic medical conditions affecting over 40% of people between the ages of 50 and 60 in the United States. There is sufficient evidence to support that sleep apnea is a risk factor for the development of hypertension. About 50% of people suffering from sleep apnea have hypertension.
It is important to note that hypertension may be the only symptom of sleep apnea and consequently the treatment of sleep apnea may result in optimal control or resolution of hypertension.
Diabetes is the body’s response to a stressful state. Sleep apnea creates such a chronic stressful state night after night, in turn, predisposing individuals to develop diabetes. Also, research shows that blood glucose levels are higher among people with sleep apnea, which may improve once sleep apnea is treated. Successful control of blood sugar levels may hinge on adequately treated sleep apnea.
Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of death in most ethnicities in the United States. Due to chronically elevated blood pressures and recurrent drops in blood oxygen levels in patients with sleep apnea, evidence supports that sleep apnea might be a risk factor for heart attacks and/or premature death.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States. A number of risk factors contribute to the development of a stroke. These include hypertension, diabetes, and irregular heart rhythms. Sleep apnea may contribute to the development of these risk factors. Studies show that sleep apnea is also an independent risk factor for having a stroke and may delay recovery after a stroke if sleep apnea is left untreated.
Irregular Heart Rhythm
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular heart rhythm that increases the risk of stroke five times. Studies indicate that sleep apnea is one of the modifiable risk factors that contribute to AF. If left untreated, sleep apnea may result in the development of atrial fibrillation, which in turn may lead to a stroke.
Due to its association with a number of chronic medical conditions, several studies suggest an increased likelihood of premature death in individuals with sleep apnea. The cause of death is most often due to cardiovascular disease and middle-aged men appear to be at highest risk.
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing sleep apnea. Studies have shown that sleep apnea may result in weight gain and weight loss may be harder if sleep apnea is left untreated.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
Abnormal dream enactment that may risk the well-being of the patient or his or her bed partner is a symptom of RBD. Association between RBD and neurodegenerative conditions is currently under investigation. If left untreated, patients with RBD may cause serious self or bed partner injury without knowledge of the consequences of their actions.