Although the basic definition of sleep apnea is the same for everyone–long pauses in breathing–the actual experience of sleep apnea can vary widely. People can report different symptoms related to their sleep apnea. Now it turns out that the type of symptoms you experience might be related to your health risks from sleep apnea.

If you experience daytime sleepiness from sleep apnea, it’s more likely that you’ll develop heart problems, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Teacher sits at her desk yawning while working on the computer

Defining Subtypes

This study is based on data from the Sleep Heart Health Study, which includes over 1200 people age 40 and over with moderate to severe sleep apnea (AHI 15 or greater). These people had been followed for nearly 12 years, giving plenty of time to observe the development of negative health effects related to sleep apnea.

For their analysis, researchers looked at the subjective symptoms reported by each person in the study. They used these symptoms to divide everyone into four subtypes:

  • Disturbed Sleep (12.2% of subjects)
  • Minimally Symptomatic (32.6%)
  • Excessively Sleepy (16.7%)
  • Moderately Sleepy (38.5%)

They reported that these subtypes corresponded to subtypes identified in other studies.

The Risks of Sleepiness

When researchers analyzed cardiovascular risks, they found that people in the excessively sleepy subtype had higher risks. In fact, they were more than three times as likely to experience heart failure than the other subtypes. In addition, they were twice as likely to experience any cardiovascular event (including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or cardiovascular death).

This group also had a higher rate of cardiovascular disease at enrollment, and were more likely to experience new or recurring cardiovascular events during follow-up.

They found that these associations were independent of other related risk factors, such as age, BMI, smoking, diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and medications.

Is Sleepiness the Cause?

Researchers were important to note that sleepiness itself was likely not the cause of increased heart risk. However, they argue that it was likely a marker for some other link between sleep apnea and heart risk.

However, this study does show us that we shouldn’t ignore sleepiness. It’s more than a nuisance in your day–it’s likely a sign of serious health problems. If you have daytime sleepiness, it’s important that you find a treatment that works for your sleep apnea.

For some people, that might be CPAP. But for many people, CPAP just doesn’t work. Either it’s uncomfortable or too much of a nuisance to use every night, or they tend to just not wear it long enough. For these people, oral appliances are a great option.

If you are unhappy with CPAP and are looking for a more comfortable sleep solution in the Detroit area, please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness in Troy, MI.