Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep. Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax so much that your airway narrows significantly, or even closes, and breathing stops.
When your brain senses that you can’t breathe, it rouses you from your sleep for just a moment so that your airway opens and you can breathe again. Usually, you won’t even remember waking, because it is for such a brief time. In some cases, these lapses in breathing can occur hundreds of times throughout the night.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Many people who suffer from sleep apnea are not aware of their condition. The two most common symptoms of this condition are loud snoring and restless sleep. Other sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Difficulty concentrating during waking hours
- Esophageal reflux
- Excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Frequent need to urinate during the night
- Heavy sweating during sleep
- Increased heart rate
- Mood or behavior changes
- Morning headaches.
Diabetic Complications: Sleep Apnea
As one of the many complications of diabetes, scientists are conducting research to fully understand the link between sleep apnea and diabetes. Here are some interesting findings to date:
- Approximately 40 percent of men with type 2 diabetes also suffer from sleep apnea, according to the Sharp Diabetes Treatment and Research Center in San Diego, California.
- People with obstructive sleep apnea are at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, independent of any other risk factors.
- Researchers have found that treating sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) improves blood glucose levels and may lead to fewer diabetic complications.
- Retinopathy may be involved in the link between sleep apnea and diabetes. In a study presented at the 2009 American Thoracic Society’s International Conference in San Diego, California, more than half of diabetic men with obstructive sleep apnea also had diabetic retinopathy. Fewer than one-third of subjects without obstructive sleep apnea suffered from retinopathy.
- University of Chicago scientists have documented a clear inverse relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and glucose control in type 2 diabetics.
- Many people assume that obesity is the common factor between diabetes and sleep apnea. A study performed at the Yale School of Medicine, however, discovered that airway obstruction during sleep apnea triggers a flight or fight response in the patient, producing high levels of cortisol. Elevated blood cortisol levels lead to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. It appears that the more severe the sleep apnea, the greater a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Treating sleep apnea is important in the prevention of diabetes and diabetic complications. In order to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms, doctors may recommend the following:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): While asleep, a person wears a face mask that blows pressurized air into his mouth to keep the airway open.
- Lifestyle changes: Losing weight, quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol can help sleep apnea, prevent complications of diabetes and improve your health in general.
- Sleep apnea surgery: While surgeries are meant to permanently treat sleep apnea, they generally don’t have a high success rate. CPAP and lifestyle changes are more effective at managing sleep apnea.
American Diabetes Association. (2007). Diabetes might be linked with sleep apnea. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetesnewsarticle.jsp?storyId=15606505