Can Sleep Apnea Kill You? Risks and Dangers

leafless tree on green grass field. can sleep apnea kill you

Can Sleep Apnea Kill You?

I’ve had sleep apnea for years. It’s a condition where your breathing is interrupted while you sleep. I never really thought much about it, until recently.

I was doing some research and I came across an article that said sleep apnea can kill you.

At first, I thought the article was clickbait – something designed to get me to read it because it sounded so shocking. But then I started thinking about all the times I’ve woken up gasping for air, and I realized that maybe there is some truth to it.

So, can sleep apnea kill you? What are the risks and dangers of this condition? Keep reading to find out.

Can sleep apnea kill you?

Sleep apnea can be a life-threatening condition due to the potential complications that can arise from untreated sleep apnea. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).

  • OSA occurs when throat muscles relax,
  • CSA happens when the brain fails to signal the breathing response to the muscles.

Untreated sleep apnea can worsen preexisting health conditions and increase the risk of developing new ones, such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. It also increases the risk of dangerous mistakes and accidents caused by daytime sleepiness.

According to some estimates, over 38 thousand people die each year of heart complications from sleep apnea, and sleep apnea triples a person’s risk of dying from any cause. Sleep apnea sufferers are also 2.5 times more likely to be in a car accident. It’s important to note that it’s untreated sleep apnea that’s the most dangerous.

Therefore, it’s crucial to spot symptoms and seek treatment for sleep apnea to prevent potential life-threatening complications.

How serious is mild sleep apnea?

Mild sleep apnea may cause some health issues over time, including increased blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and stress hormones, as well as an overall lower quality of life due to increased fatigue, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, and headaches.

While it may not be immediately life-threatening, leaving sleep apnea untreated can lead to more severe forms of the disorder, such as moderate or severe sleep apnea, which can have serious health consequences.

For example: severe sleep apnea can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, those with untreated severe sleep apnea were 5 times more likely to experience a cardiac-related death.

black and white digital heart beat monitor at 97 display. can sleep apnea kill you

What are the risks and dangers of having sleep apnea?

Health problemsDefinition
Pulmonary HypertensionHigh blood pressure affecting the arteries in the lungs, which can be linked to sleep apnea.
HypoxiaInsufficient oxygen supply to the body’s tissues, a potential consequence of sleep apnea.
StrokeA medical condition occurring when blood supply to the brain is interrupted, which can be linked to sleep apnea.
ArrhythmiasAbnormal heart rhythms that may result from sleep apnea.
Cognitive ImpairmentDecline in cognitive functions, such as memory and attention, associated with sleep apnea.
Daytime SleepinessExcessive sleepiness and fatigue during the day, which can pose risks in daily activities and increase the likelihood of accidents.
Impaired Quality of LifeReduced well-being and diminished overall quality of life due to the effects of sleep apnea.
Metabolic SyndromeA cluster of conditions, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels, often associated with sleep apnea.
TMJSleeping with a TMJ disorder is not funny. Sleep apnea and TMJ can be related as they both affect the temporomandibular joint and some says that even TMJ causes sleep apnea.
Impaired Immune FunctionSleep apnea can affect the immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to infections and delayed healing.
risks and dangers associated with sleep apnea

1. Increased Risk of Heart Disease and Heart Attack

Sleep apnea increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack by causing a strain on the cardiovascular system. Patients with sleep apnea are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

The frequent pauses and breathing stops throughout the night lead to other health risks and can cause chronic inflammation that contributes to plaque build-up in the arteries. This process is called atherosclerosis, and it strains the cardiovascular system, leading to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

2. Increased Risk of Stroke

Research shows that individuals with sleep apnea have a significantly higher risk of stroke. According to multiple studies, including one by the Yale School of Medicine, having sleep apnea increases the risk of stroke by 2-3 times. This increased risk can be attributed to the physiological effects of sleep apnea on the body.

Sleep apnea causes a drop in oxygen levels, which triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, leading to a rapid spike in heart rate and high blood pressure. This response, when it happens frequently due to untreated sleep apnea, can contribute to cardiovascular issues like higher blood pressure and increased inflammation and stress, all of which increase the risk of stroke.

Individuals with sleep apnea can reduce their risk of stroke by seeking medical treatment, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, and making lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

3. Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure Problems

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition in which the force of blood against the walls of your arteries is consistently too high. Sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure due to the frequent drops in oxygen levels that occur during apneic episodes. These drops cause a rise in blood pressure, which can strain the cardiovascular system over time. Treatment for sleep apnea can often improve high blood pressure in those who already have it.

4. Increased Risk of Diabetes

Sleep apnea can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by causing the body to develop insulin resistance and affecting glucose metabolism. This risk is particularly high for individuals who are advanced in age and obese. Sleep apnea can also lead to abnormal liver tests and scarring from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. To mitigate this risk, it is crucial to treat sleep apnea.

Eliminating sleep apnea can reduce the elevated risk for life-threatening problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, cervix, pancreas, prostate, and uterus.

A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a balanced diet, can also help to mitigate the risk of type 2 diabetes.

5. Increased Risk of Fatigue and Sleepiness

Sleep apnea can lead to increased risk of fatigue and sleepiness due to the lack of restorative sleep and deep rest that occurs when breathing is disrupted during the night. This can result in poor concentration, mood disorders, impaired cognition and memory, weight gain, and lack of alertness. In addition, sleepiness while driving can be highly dangerous and increase the risk of accidents.

To manage these symptoms, it is important to seek treatment for sleep apnea, such as continuous positive airway pressure (see how to sleep with CPAP machine) therapy, and prioritize getting enough restful sleep each night.

6. Increased Risk of Vehicle and Workplace Accidents

Sleep apnea increases the risk of vehicle and workplace accidents due to excessive daytime fatigue caused by lack of sleep. People with sleep apnea often experience interruptions in their breathing during sleep, leading to poor-quality rest. As a result, they may have trouble concentrating, experience irritability, and exhibit reduced cognitive function, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time. These issues can lead to poor performance at work or school and make driving highly dangerous.

It is vital that people with sleep apnea inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and seek treatment to reduce the risk of accidents and improve their overall health.

7. Increased Risk of Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are common mental health conditions that can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities, while anxiety involves excessive worry, fear, and tension. Research has shown that sleep apnea can contribute to the development of both conditions.

Patients with sleep apnea are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts as compared to those who get enough restful sleep. Sleep apnea causes sleep and oxygen deprivation, leading to fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Treating sleep apnea can greatly relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety by restoring an individual’s ability to enjoy sound, restful sleep night after night.

If you suffer from either of these conditions, it is important to get tested for sleep apnea to protect your mental health and overall well-being.

8. Increased Risk of Liver Damage

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can lead to a number of health complications. One of the most concerning complications is liver damage. When a person with sleep apnea experiences pauses in breathing during sleep, it can lead to decreased oxygen levels in the body. Over time, this lack of oxygen can cause abnormalities in liver tests and even scarring from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This is because the liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, and when it doesn’t receive enough oxygen, it can’t perform this function properly.

Sleep apnea can lead to other complications that further increase the risk of liver damage, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.

How can you prevent the dangers of having sleep apnea?

Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on your side are all effective preventative measures. Seeking medical help if you suspect that you have sleep apnea is crucial. A professional sleep specialist can diagnose sleep apnea with a sleep test and recommend the best course of action – but you can use your Apple Watch to detect sleep apnea early.

Treatment options like

  • CPAP therapy,
  • weight loss,
  • and surgery

can help manage sleep apnea symptoms and reduce the risk of developing chronic heart disease or other medical conditions.

Remember, the sooner sleep apnea is treated, the less likely other health conditions will develop. Check out here the cost of a sleep apnea test.


What type of sleep apnea do I have?

To determine the type of sleep apnea a person has, it is recommended to speak to a doctor. However, here are some key characteristics of each type that may help identify the type of sleep apnea:

For Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):

  1. Tissue in the upper airway falls or collapses into the throat, blocking normal airflow.
  2. Causes gasping, choking, snoring, and snorting during sleep.

For Central Sleep Apnea (CSA):

  1. Airway becomes blocked when the brain fails to send the right communication signals to the respiratory system.
  2. May be related to brainstem issues or severe obesity.

For Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CompSAS):

  1. Combination of central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.
  2. Patients likely to experience symptoms of both conditions.

It’s important to note that sleep apnea symptoms vary for every person, and a doctor can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

How can I reduce my risk of sleep apnea?

To reduce the risk of sleep apnea, there are several lifestyle changes one can make. Here are some ways to minimize the symptoms:

  1. Sleeping on your side
  2. Losing weight
  3. Quitting smoking
  4. Reducing alcohol intake
  5. Avoiding sleeping on your back
  6. Exercising regularly

What are the long-term effects of sleep apnea?

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health consequences and significantly reduce lifespan. Some potential long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea include:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Type 2 diabetes
  3. Heart disease, irregular heartbeats, and heart failure
  4. Strokes
  5. Depression and other mental health problems
  6. Memory loss and difficulty concentrating
  7. Weight gain
  8. Elevated mortality risk
  9. Tiredness
  10. Dry mouth
  11. Insomnia
  12. Snore
  13. Weak immune system
  14. Migraines
  15. allergies (always use hypoallergic bedding)
  16. Morning Headaches
  17. Groggy awakening
  18. Germs on tonsils
  19. Increased risk of car accidents due to falling asleep at the wheel
  20. Reductions in daytime alertness, cognitive function, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time
  21. Overall lower quality of life

Severe sleep apnea can increase the risk of cardiac-related death, and individuals with untreated severe sleep apnea were five times more likely to experience a cardiac-related death.

What is the life expectancy of someone with sleep apnea?

Untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can significantly reduce life expectancy. Studies have shown that individuals with untreated OSA are at more than three times the risk of premature death, reducing life expectancy by 17%. Those with severe sleep apnea have a 46% chance of dying earlier, while those with moderate sleep apnea can experience a 17% chance of early death. Individuals under the age of 50 with OSA may have their life expectancy reduced by 8 to 18 years.

It is essential to diagnose and treat sleep apnea as soon as possible to lower the risk of health complications and early death.

Is death from sleep apnea common?

Although it is rare for someone to die from sleep apnea on its own, the constant lack of oxygen from untreated OSA can lead to severe conditions, increasing fatality risk. Sleep apnea sufferers are 2.5 times more likely to be in a car accident.

According to estimates, over 38 thousand people die each year of heart complications from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea triples a person’s risk of dying from any cause.

Cardiovascular ComplicationsSleep apnea increases the risk of conditions like hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes, which can lead to death.
AccidentsExcessive daytime sleepiness can impair cognitive function, increasing the risk of accidents while driving or operating machinery.
ComorbiditiesSleep apnea is often linked to other health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and depression, which can contribute to mortality.
Sudden DeathAlthough rare, severe untreated sleep apnea may contribute to sudden cardiac events during sleep, leading to sudden death.
Potential Risks Associated with Untreated Sleep Apnea

Remember, seeking proper diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea can significantly reduce these risks and improve overall health outcomes.


By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.