Frequent readers of this publication know that I’ve shared a myriad of research emphasizing the health dangers of insufficient sleep.
Indeed, poor sleep increases a person’s risk of developing various medical woes, including obesity,1 diabetes,2 cancer and cardiovascular disease, just to name a few.
Therefore, I wasn’t too surprised when I came across a study suggesting that a sleep problem often related to loud snoring called apnea may accelerate aging.3
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the upper airway is blocked during sleep, causing breathing issues, chronic snoring, and repeated awakenings.
These pauses in breathing (apnea) can be caused by a person’s physical structure or other health conditions and can affect oxygen levels in the blood.4
We know that too little sleep has been linked to a shortened life expectancy and poor general well-being. In fact, one analysis suggests that sleeping five or fewer hours per night may increase mortality risk by as much as 15 percent.5 But how does sleep apnea in particular affect the way you age?
A University of Missouri study examined apnea, as well as something called epigenetic age acceleration.6 In layperson’s terms, this phenomenon means that a person’s biological age trumps their age in years and is linked to early death. The conclusion?
Sleep Apnea Does Age You…
This small study included 24 nonsmokers between 28 and 58 years of age. Of that group, 16 had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, while eight had not. All participants underwent a sleep study, with blood and DNA analysis.
According to study author Rene Cortese, sleep apnea accelerates the aging process via oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
Prof. Cortese explains that the researchers found that OSA-induced sleep disruptions and lower oxygen levels during sleep promoted faster biological age acceleration compared to the control group. But it wasn’t all bad news…
CPAP Reverses the Trend
The group was retested after a year of using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine for at least four hours nightly.
When wearing a CPAP, a person breathes through a mask covering the nose and mouth. It’s effective because your airways remain open to receive a steady flow of oxygen so that you can breathe normally. While the machine may not be the most comfortable treatment, people, reportedly, grow accustomed to the apparatus. And it looks like it’s worth the trouble…
Researchers found that with the CPAP study participants were able to reverse the aging trend.
“The OSA patients who adhered to CPAP showed a deceleration of the epigenetic age, while the age acceleration trends did not change for the control group,” Prof. Cortese explained. “Our results suggest that biological age acceleration is at least partially reversible when effective treatment of OSA is implemented.”
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, about 22 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea. Moreover, 80 percent of the moderate and severe cases are left undiagnosed.
Those who suffer – or suspect they suffer – from sleep apnea should visit a trusted healthcare professional.
However, if you’re simply a lousy sleeper, you’re not out of the woods regarding health dangers. Remember, interrupted sleep damages your health. What’s more, it’s never too late to establish healthy sleep habits, which can make a huge difference in your well-being– as this study confirmed.
Take your sleeping seriously. Ditch the devices at night time and consider a hot shower or bath near bedtime. Aim to exercise earlier in the day and turn your bedroom into a haven for sleep (not work!).
For more information on sleep apnea or other ways to foster better sleep for better health, visit https://www.sleepassociation.org/.