Sleep disorders have become a significant health issue in the United States. Every year more people are diagnosed with sleep apnea, with an astounding 22 million people estimated to have it. Yet, 80% of the cases of moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea go undiagnosed. Unfortunately, sleep apnea cases continue to rise, largely due to the increasing rate of obesity. So, for those of you who were just prescribed a CPAP machine by your doctor, let us help to educate you on the importance of using it.
For maximum health benefits, the goal is to be using your CPAP machine every night. If you find yourself struggling in this area, it is recommended that you are utilizing your machine 5 nights a week for 4 hours a night at the very least. Not adhering to these compliance guidelines poses a serious risk to your health; leaving your sleep apnea untreated can put you at a higher risk for certain diseases, and in some cases this can even lead to death.
While we aren’t trying to frighten you, we need to address the truth head-on: left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious and life-shortening consequences. Below is a list of some of the common issues caused by untreated sleep apnea:
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Heart Disease / Stroke
- Type II Diabetes
- Acid reflux / GERD
- Worsening of ADHD and other ailments.
- Asthma (in adults)
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as work and school in children and adolescents. It is also important to note that untreated sleep apnea can cause motor vehicle and other accidents. Falling asleep at the wheel can not only harm you, but also those on the road with you. Some people can even fall asleep while standing and depending where you fall, this can be very dangerous.
Diving deeper into HOW untreated sleep apnea causes these other issues:
When you leave your sleep apnea untreated, your body struggles to take in air and exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, causing you to wake (whether you realize it or not) and disrupting your sleep. This puts stress on the body and causes your hormones to go into overdrive, while at the same time the oxygen level in your blood is dropping. This eventually leads to hypertension among other deleterious effects. The low oxygen levels from all of this is what leads to apnea-related heart disease, heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and abnormal rhythm. Between weight gain and a lack of sleep, your body stops using insulin properly, which can lead to Type II Diabetes.
Weight gain is very common and often seems like a vicious cycle when associated with untreated sleep apnea. It’s hard to find the will to exercise and eat right when you are exhausted, so it is difficult to keep from gaining weight. In turn, that weight gain worsens your obstructive sleep apnea and the cycle continues. However, once you treat your sleep apnea, you wake more energized and are more focused and motivated throughout the day. With this newfound energy, it’s easier to work towards losing that weight, and in doing so, you could drastically improve your obstructive sleep apnea. The weight loss will also likely lead to reduced blood pressure, improved mood, and a healthier heart!
As you can see now, using your CPAP machine has many positive health benefits. Another important factor to consider is that many people acquire this equipment through their health insurance which places the device on a rental period. If you are not using your equipment or following the guidelines put in place by your insurance company, they will not continue to pay for it. These compliance guidelines are usually, as mentioned earlier, at least 4 hours a night for at least 5 nights a week. It may be useful to note that the four hours used does not need to be consecutive, but it does need to be within a 24-hour period. We suggest calling your insurance provider directly to understand what guidelines are set in place so you can start off on the right track.
If you have sleep apnea and drive or fly for a living, you are required to treat it in order to continue in your line of work. Most companies will not take on the liability of letting an employee drive or fly while untreated, as it poses too much of a risk. You are generally also required to submit proof of compliance annually to keep you and everyone else safe.
Hopefully this article on the risks of untreated sleep apnea provided you with the motivation to take good care of yourself. Finding success with sleep therapy is solely in your hands, but we are happy to support you with the process. A little will and self-determination will help you take the steps towards a healthier life and happier self. We know you can do it!
– Page Maryyanek and Laura Pratt
*This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.