Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.-Anthony Burgess
Lack of sleep makes you irritable, prone to mistakes, and depresses your immune system. But Sleep Apnea (aka OSAS or Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome) is also linked with heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and diabetes.
Sleep Apnea is arguably the most common and serious medical condition that there is (other than telomere erosion, of course.) Over 18 Million (or 6%) of Americans suffer from Sleep Apnea, yet only half of those affected have been diagnosed.
Sleep Apnea will be recognized by roommates and spouses as an eerie and impossibly long pause in the sleeper’s breathing or snoring, followed by a gasping back to life that happens just before you were considering CPR or calling 911. While the witness to Sleep Apnea can be freaked out, the person sleeping is completely unaware of their nightly near-death experiences.
Sleep apnea is caused by a collapse in the soft tissues behind the hard palate. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself, you should call ASAP to arrange a sleep study.
- snoring and apnea
- waking up choking or gasping
- dry throat and eyes in the morning
- morning headache
- daytime drowsiness
- lack of focus
During a sleep study, technicians will connect your scalp to an EEG, measure your pulse and oxygen saturation with a finger monitor, and record what happens throughout the night.
Hypopneas (apneic events) are defined by at least 10 seconds without breathing or snoring, accompanied by either a neurological arousal (a 3-second or greater shift in EEG, or brain wave, frequency) or a blood oxygen desaturation of 3–4% or greater. Clinically significant levels of sleep apnea are defined as six or more of these hypopneas per hour.
During my reading about telomere biology, I came across a study showing that OSAS is strongly associated with shortened telomeres:
Respir Med. 2010 Aug;104(8):1225-9. Epub 2010 Apr 28.
Telomere shortening in sleep apnea syndrome.
RESULTS: Telomere Length was significantly shorter in patients with OSAS than in controls (p<0.001). This difference persisted after adjustment for age, body mass index, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and uric acid levels, smoking status and the presence of arterial hypertension (p=0.018).
Sleep should ideally involve 4-5 pleasant and consecutive 90-minute journeys down into the oblivion of slow-EEG wave sleep, and then back up to R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement or dreaming) sleep.
Interestingly, sleep is evolutionarily-conserved so it must be important, right? Did you know that all mammals, birds, and many reptiles, amphibians, and fish require sleep? Yes, even sharks that need to constantly swim to oxygenate their gills, sleep one hemisphere at a time.
With sleep apnea, you are suffocating and being momentarily jarred closer to consciousness at least 6 times an hour. With normal regenerative sleep, you should be enjoying a heightened anabolic (building up and restoring) state, with growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.
Returning to the study findings, perhaps the failure to maintain the deeper unconscious stages of sleep is preventing the healthy and prolonged lowering of levels of adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone) and cortisol (the “stressed-out” hormone) that should normally occur during the ‘wee hours’ of the morning. The dozens of near-awakenings keep the Sleep Apnea sufferer in a vigilant and catabolic (breaking down and using up) state that should be reserved for your on-the-go, waking hours.
Whether or not you subscribe to my stem cell theory of aging, you absolutely must get help if you have the symptoms of sleep apnea. It will transform your life in a way that I can only liken to Dorothy awakening from a dreary black-and-white Kansas into the Wonderful World of OZ.
And yes, I am speaking from my personal experience of using a CPAP machine every night for the last 17 years (not coincidentally, the year I got married.) In the interests of health, well-being, and telomere stability, you or your loved ones must get tested and treated for Sleep Apnea. It will transform your life so that you will never, ever want to leave the “Merry Old Land of ZZZZZZzzzz”