Sleep Apnea Could Affect Metabolism, According to New Study

A study published recently in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism supports the theory that sleep apnea may wreak havoc on the metabolism of those with the disorder. According to the American Sleep Association, more than 50 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder, and 25 million of those suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway is obstructed during sleep, causing a pause in breathing, according to Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, of Pinnacle Oral Surgery Specialists in Rockwall, Texas.

“When breathing is disrupted, it can cause low blood oxygen levels, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular problems,” he said. “Many people don’t realize the huge impact disrupted sleep can have on the entire body.”

Sleep Apnea Affects More Than Sleep

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore looked at 31 patients with an average age of 51 who were considered obese. Most in the study were white males with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. The study monitored patients for two nights, with some using continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines and others not.

During observation, the researchers monitored insulin, cortisol, blood sugar levels and fatty acids in the blood. Those not using their prescribed CPAP machines and those who had the most severe cases of sleep apnea saw significant increases in all their levels. In addition, patients in the study who admitted to not using their CPAP machines for several nights before the study also saw increases in blood pressure.

The study comes after connections between diabetes, heart disease and obesity were potentially linked to sleep apnea. Since the participants in this particular study were all obese, researchers say the results don’t necessarily reflect the situation for all sleep apnea sufferers, but more research will need to be done in the future to clarify.

Consistently Treating Sleep Apnea Is Key 

One of the biggest hindrances to the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea is patient cooperation in consistently using the CPAP machine. Many patients cannot tolerate the often loud and uncomfortable machine at night and go without. As shown in the study, even a short period of time without treatment can lead to complications.

Pollock believes there are options for those intolerant of CPAP machines, the current gold standard in sleep apnea treatment. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons use their expertise to determine where the obstruction is occurring so they can attempt to alleviate it.

“There are many treatment options available for those who want a more permanent solution to sleep apnea and don’t want the tubes and noise of a CPAP machine,” he said. “For some, a laser-assisted uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty, or LAUPP, can be the answer. For others, tightening the soft palate may be all that is needed.”

Another treatment includes the use of custom-made oral appliances worn during sleep that help hold the jaw at an angle that keeps the airway open at all times during the night. Although the optimal treatment method for sleep apnea is the CPAP machine, according to many in the medical field, it’s helpful to have options for those who aren’t a good fit for traditional treatment.