Imagine that one-in-five adults had a condition that impacted not only your mental well-being but also your physical health. Say it significantly increased your risk for cancer and even diabetes or caused you to lose thousands of dollars fighting its effects. And worst of all, the majority of those affected didn’t even know it.
That may sound far-fetched, but unfortunately, it’s real. In fact, it’s sleep apnea!
You may be wondering how someone could be so heavily impacted by a condition that they don’t even realize they have, but when you read up on sleep apnea statistics, it becomes clear that far too many people miss the signs of this common condition.
That’s why we want to take some time to talk about some facts about sleep apnea that may help you identify whether you or someone you love could be impacted by this breathing disorder.
In this article:
- We’ll explain what sleep apnea is and discuss who is impacted by this condition.
- We will then outline the shocking statistics regarding its prevalence and examine how sleep apnea affects the body.
- Lastly, we’ll discuss why treatment is so critical and what you can do if you are diagnosed with this common sleep disorder.
Reviewing the Facts About Sleep Apnea
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a form of sleep-disordered breathing. It is characterized by periods of very slow and shallow or even temporarily paused breathing, specifically during sleep. To be diagnosed with sleep apnea, you must experience an average of five or more of these episodes per hour.
What Are the Different Types of Sleep Apnea?
There are two main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). OSA occurs when the airway becomes blocked due to the over-relaxation of the muscles in the mouth and throat while you are asleep. On the other hand, CSA is caused when the muscles involved in breathing are unable to contract during sleep. There is also a third form of sleep apnea, called Complex Sleep Apnea, which arises when a person who is being treated for Obstructive Sleep Apnea develops Central Sleep Apnea as well.
What Are the Stages of Sleep Apnea?
The severity of each case of sleep apnea is calculated using the results of your initial diagnostic sleep study. Each stage of Obstructive Sleep Apnea is classified using the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which reflects the severity of sleep apnea and is calculated by the number of times that breathing slows or stops during each hour of sleep. Central Sleep Apnea is calculated similarly but with something called the central apnea-hypopnea index. To meet the requirements for CSA, 50% of all periods of apnea must originate from a “central” episode.
- Mild Sleep Apnea: 5-14 AHIs/CAHIs
- Moderate Sleep Apnea: 15-30 AHIs/CAHIs
- Severe Sleep Apnea: 30+ AHIs/CAHIs
What Are the Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea?
Both Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea can affect people of all ages, genders, and races. Here are some risk factors that are the most likely to impact your chances of developing sleep apnea:
- Being Male
- Consumption of Drugs, Cigarettes, and Alcohol
- Underlying Conditions
- Anatomical or Physiological Abnormalities
What Are the Most Common Signs of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can impact you in many ways, and it is important to remember that each person has their own unique experience with this sleep disorder. Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea is associated with fewer symptoms, while severe cases can be debilitating. That said, some of the most common sleep apnea symptoms are:
- Loud Snoring: Snoring is often the first tell-tale sign that someone has sleep apnea, especially due to airway obstruction.
- Pauses in Breathing: This is often accompanied by the feeling of waking up gasping for air.
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: The brain responds to each period of apnea by waking you up so that you can take a breath. When it happens repeatedly, you may begin to struggle with the effects of sleep deprivation.
Keep in mind that having one or more of these signs or symptoms does not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea. If you think you may have this or another sleep disorder, consult with your doctor and arrange for a sleep study.
How Many People With Sleep Apnea Snore?
Complaints of loud snoring are very common in people suspected of having this sleep disorder. While snoring is not as common in Central Sleep Apnea cases, it has been estimated that up to 94% of people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea do snore. Additionally, the intensity of your snoring may indicate the severity of your sleep apnea. A 2010 study published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that the louder a person snored, the higher their AHI score.
Can Other Medical Conditions Cause Sleep Apnea?
Sleep-breathing disorders can arise as a symptom of another underlying disease. This is particularly true for Central Sleep Apnea, but certain diagnoses have been known to increase your risk for airway obstruction as well. For example, a 2012 report estimated that 83% of people with type 2 diabetes have sleep apnea and may not even know it.
Examining the Prevalence of Sleep Apnea
What Percentage of Adults Have Sleep Apnea?
Studies suggest that the risk for sleep apnea increases with age. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has estimated that over 22% of all adults, ages 18-90, have Obstructive Sleep Apnea alone.
What Percentage of Children Have Sleep Apnea?
The number of children living with sleep apnea is much smaller than the sleep apnea statistics for adults. It is thought that up to 6% of children have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, while up to 5% have Central Sleep Apnea.
Related Reading: Sleep Apnea In Children: Understanding the Signs and Treatment Options
What Percentage of People Have Sleep Apnea by Sex?
Experts estimate that 15-30% of men and around 10-15% of women have sleep apnea in North America alone. However, a 2015 Swiss study suggested that these numbers could be even higher, with 23.4% of female participants and 49.7% of males receiving a diagnosis of moderate to severe sleep apnea.
How Many Americans Have Sleep Apnea?
According to the American Medical Association, it is believed that more than 30 million people have sleep apnea in the US, about 9% of the population. The majority of these cases are thought to be caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
How Many People Have Sleep Apnea?
Some researchers estimate more than 900 million adult cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnea globally. However, it’s worth noting that those same experts believe that many of those are undiagnosed. On the other hand, CSA is far less common. One study estimated that 0.9% of adults may have Central Sleep Apnea, which amounts to just under 80 million people globally.
What Percentage of People Are Undiagnosed with Sleep Apnea?
According to experts, this is one of the most concerning sleep apnea statistics. Symptoms of sleep apnea can be more subtle compared to other sleep disorders, and mild sleep apnea can present in numerous unpredictable ways. So it’s unsurprising that up to 80% of these cases remain undiagnosed. This is very concerning, as untreated sleep apnea can lead to other concerning health issues.
How Common is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is very prevalent. In fact, it is the second most common sleep disorder in the world. New research shows that one in five people could be living with this condition. The prevalence of sleep apnea is similar to diabetes, with over 28 million cases in the United States. And it is actually more common than asthma, with 26 million cases.
Understanding the Impacts of Sleep Apnea
Does Sleep Apnea Cause Other Health Problems?
Compared to their peers without sleep abnormalities, people with sleep apnea are at a greater risk for numerous health conditions. This is likely due to the increased inflammation that is thought to occur as a result of repeated apnea episodes. If you have sleep apnea, you are more likely to develop many different chronic conditions. Examples include:
How Does Sleep Apnea Impact Heart Health?
Although sleep apnea can impact your health in many ways, it can be especially rough on your cardiovascular system. A recent data review revealed that if you have sleep apnea you are:
- 86% more likely to have a stroke.
- 71% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
- 48% more likely to develop coronary heart disease.
Does Sleep Apnea Cause High Blood Pressure?
Sleep apnea has been linked to hypertension. According to research on sleep apnea statistics, 89% of young adults with unexplained high blood pressure are thought to have Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Can Sleep Apnea Affect Mental Health?
Mental health issues are one of the more impactful sleep apnea symptoms. Recently, a team of scientists found that nearly 47% of people with sleep apnea also have some sort of mental health issue. This is understood to be the result of two separate factors— the damage that is done to the brain when it goes without oxygen for even short periods of time and the poor sleep quality that is often associated with sleep apnea. Related psychiatric conditions include:
- Bipolar Disorder
Does Sleep Apnea Increase Your Risk for Death?
Unfortunately, people who have sleep apnea have a much higher likelihood of dying. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a person with untreated sleep apnea is three times more likely to die compared to those who do not have this condition. That is why treating sleep apnea is so important!
Why Do People With Sleep Apnea Die?
Sleep apnea is unique from other sleep disorders because it actively causes damage to the body. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of dying from many different causes. But historically, studies have shown that most deaths are due to cardiovascular conditions that have been made worse or have even been caused by sleep apnea. Specifically, about 42% of deaths in people with sleep apnea were attributed to cardiovascular disease or stroke. This is thought to largely be the result of repeated episodes of low to no oxygen, which is especially damaging to the blood vessels.
Does Sleep Apnea Treatment Lower the Chances of Death?
Luckily, studies suggest that the risk of death significantly decreases when controlled by CPAP or other appropriate treatments. In 2015, a team of scientists found that elderly individuals who sought treatment for sleep apnea saw a five-year survival rate of nearly 94%. Meanwhile, only 69% of participants who went without treatment survived that same time span.
Can Sleep Apnea Increase Your Risk of Getting Into a Car Accident?
Although it is a cause for concern, this is one of the most interesting sleep apnea statistics! The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that people with this condition are 2.5 times more likely to get into a car accident. But this number decreases by 70% if you sleep with a CPAP for more than four hours each night. According to this AASM press release, the following factors are thought to play a big role in whether your sleep apnea could lead to an accident.
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
- Not Getting Enough Sleep
- Use of Sleeping Pills
How Many People Get Into Car Accidents Because of Sleep Apnea?
A 2004 study reported over 800,000 Obstructive Sleep Apnea-related car accidents during the year 2000 in the United States alone. These researchers also concluded that treating all drivers with sleep apnea would save $11.1 billion in collision costs, plus 980 lives annually.
Recognizing the Importance of Treating Sleep Apnea
How Many People Sleep With a CPAP Machine?
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is often considered the first line of treatment for those with sleep apnea, but how popular are they? While the exact amount is not known due to the number of people who quit CPAP therapy early, manufacturers have estimated that at least 8 million people sleep with a CPAP machine each night.
What Is the Goal of CPAP Therapy?
The main purpose of sleeping with a CPAP is to reduce the number of apnea episodes that occur during sleep. But there is also a secondary reason for CPAP therapy, and that is to minimize the negative effects of repeated sleep apnea events over time. People who regularly sleep with their machine may have their risk of premature death decreased by as much as 61%. This 2022 study also projected that CPAP therapy decreases a person’s risk for heart failure by 77%.
What Is the Success Rate of CPAP Therapy?
To be considered a success, CPAP therapy must decrease the number of sleep apnea episodes, also referred to as AHI, by at least 50%. A 2014 review by the European Respiratory Journal states that people who have sleep apnea and follow through with their CPAP-based treatment plan have an 80% success rate, meaning that 4 out of 5 of them can expect to see their AHI scores cut in half or more!
Does CPAP Therapy Improve Quality of Life?
People who follow through with their CPAP treatment plan are likely to see many improvements in their daily life. In a study published by the American Thoracic Society, these effects were evident even for individuals with mild cases of sleep apnea. Their findings support an earlier study on quality of life after CPAP, in which participants with both Central and Obstructive Sleep Apnea reported improvements in:
- Daily Functioning
- Social Interactions
- Emotional Functioning
- General Symptoms
Can Sleeping With a CPAP Machine Save You Money?
Having sleep apnea can come with some pretty costly effects. An obvious one is the cost of medical care for any secondary conditions that arise when a person does not receive treatment. Scientists have estimated that people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea who sleep with a CPAP machine save between $2,700 and $5,200 per year compared to those who do not.
Can Losing Weight Reverse the Effects of Sleep Apnea?
Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, can not only reduce your risk of developing sleep apnea later on in life, but they can also reduce the severity of existing cases, including many sleep apnea symptoms. However, weight loss alone is often not enough, especially with severe sleep apnea.
In 2015, scientists studied the effects of diet and exercise on obese individuals over the age of 60 with sleep apnea. While their condition was not entirely reversed, participants saw a significant reduction in the number of sleep apnea events per hour— from an average of 22 down to 12. For this reason, doctors often suggest combining Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy with lifestyle changes.
What Are the Alternative Treatments for Sleep Apnea?
There are many different alternatives to sleeping with a CPAP. However, most of them address Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Some of the most common include Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT), Positional Therapy (PT), and surgery. Surgery and OAT tend to be much more effective than PT alone. That said, the success rate for any of these options really depends on the person.
How Effective Are CPAP Alternatives?
One study found that Mandibular Advancement Devices, which are a form of OAT, reduced the number of sleep apnea events in 86% of participants. 33% of these individuals saw their AHI score fall by more than 50%. On the other hand, surgical outcomes depend on the doctor’s ability to pair the right procedure with the right patient. For example, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) has a success rate of more than 80% in individuals with a small soft palate, but that same procedure is only successful in 8% of obese patients with a large soft palate.
Now that we’ve gone over who is most likely to develop sleep apnea, how common it is, and how it affects you, you may be wondering if you have an undiagnosed case yourself. If you or your partner suspect you have either Central or Obstructive Sleep Apnea or any other sleep disorder, we encourage you to speak with your doctor about your concerns. They may suggest that you complete a home sleep test or even schedule a full sleep study. And for more sleep apnea statistics, tips and tricks for living with sleep apnea, reviews of CPAP products and accessories, and more, check out our blog!
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