In November of 2013, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine announced that it was partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a new project titled the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. The goal of the collaboration was to increase overall awareness of sleep illness, as well as to educate the public on the importance of getting enough sleep; the hope was that by spreading the word, measureable public behavior change could be achieved. When the project was first announced, Janet B. Croft, PhD and CDC senior chronic disease epidemiologist said, “Sleep and sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, are increasingly recognized as vital to a wide variety of public health and chronic disease concerns, including obesity, hypertension, and cancer. The CDC is collaborating with the AASM to improve the health of people through diagnosis and treatment of sleep illness.” The project was slated to last five years, and now that it has almost reached its first year of operation the group has made some important announcements. Perhaps most striking is the overall message that public health and safety are being threatened by the rising number of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, with the number of adult sufferers now estimated to be at least 25 million. The group has assembled a number of studies that show exactly how damaging the condition, which has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2-diabetes and stroke, can be. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s president Dr. Timothy orgenthaler, who is also the national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project, “Obstructive sleep apnea is destroying the health of millions of Americans, and the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades. The effective treatment of sleep apnea is one of the keys to success as our nation attempts to reduce health care spending and improve chronic disease management.” According to data published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, obstructive sleep apnea has become increasingly prevalent over the last two decades, with estimates putting the number of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 who have the disease at 25% of the population. It is thought that the increase in the number of cases being seen is linked to the national obesity epidemic. Sleep apnea has been linked to a number of negative health impacts. Here are just a few:
- Those who have severe obstructive sleep apnea have been found to have reduced white matter fiber integrity in several areas of their brains. This has been shown to impact mood, daytime alertness and cognition. When untreated sleep apnea was treated for a period of one year with CPAP therapy, the brain damage that had been observed was completely reversed.
- Changes in both function and anatomy have been found in the brainstem regions of those who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
- Surgical patients who have their sleep apnea diagnosed and treated prior to surgery show significant reductions in the number of postoperative cardiovascular complications.
- Patients who undergo CPAP therapy for the treatment of sleep apnea have been shown to undergo a favorable reduction in blood pressure.
- A study conducted in Brazil found that of patients who suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea, 92% suffered nocturnal cardiac arrhythmias, while the same was true of only 53% of those without sleep apnea.
- Snoring that is loud
- Choking or gasping while asleep
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
- Obesity or a body mass index of thirty or higher
- High blood pressure