How Can You Die from Sleep Apnea?

Many people are concerned with the health impacts of obstructive sleep apnea. And with good reason! Let’s look at some of the ways it can go beyond merely being a nuisance to actively send you to an early grave.

How Many People Each Year Die from Sleep Apnea?

First off, it’s highly unlikely that sleep apnea is the sole cause of death for an adult.  To put it another way: Can an adult suffer from a case of sleep apnea so extreme that he or she will actually asphyxiate in his or her sleep?  Answer: no.  However, can untreated sleep apnea be a contributing factor in death?  You bet. 

  • The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 38,000 die each year from heart disease complicated by sleep apnea.  
  • In 1988, a random sample of 1,522 men and women were given an overnight stay in a sleep lab to identify those with sleep apnea.  Eighteen years later, researchers checked back in with the participants.  The results were startling:
    • 19 percent of the participants with sleep apnea had already died, versus just four percent of the participants without sleep apnea.  
    • Of those with sleep apnea who had passed away, 42 percent were attributed to cardiovascular disease or stroke, versus 26 percent of deaths of participants without sleep apnea.  
    • According to the researchers, “(s)evere sleep apnea was associated with increased mortality whether or not participants experienced daytime sleepiness.”
  • A series of studies have demonstrated a clear correlation between sleep apnea and highly dangerous and deadly conditions:
    • 2007: Sleep apnea can increase the odds of heart attack or death by 30 percent over a period of four to five years.
    • 2010: Sleep apnea can increase the odds of a stroke by two or three times.  
    • 2013: OSA is linked to cardiovascular disease and arrhythmias, and is shown to increase the risk of nocturnal sudden cardiovascular death.  

Why is sleep apnea so closely related to so many deadly conditions?  When you stop breathing often enough during the night due to sleep apnea, you deprive yourself of enough oxygen that you develop ischemia, or tissue death due to lack of oxygen, in your heart and brain.  If it gets bad enough – and doesn’t take much – the result can be a stroke or a heart attack.  And if it happens at night, when nobody around you is likely to be awake to call for emergency assistance, death is substantially more likely.  

Bottom line?  If you’re suffering from sleep apnea, do something to address it.


Published On: May 06, 2022 Categories: Sleep Apnea, Wellness