This is its first proven link to cancer.
But previous studies have linked this sleep disturbance to stroke, heart disease, depression, and early death.
Most people aren’t even aware they do this (you’re asleep when it happens). It’s next to impossible to self-diagnose the problem. But if there’s any chance it affects you or someone you love, you need to get diagnosis and treatment ASAP. Your ability to stay cancer-free and stroke-free may very well depend on it.
The Ancient Memory-Boosting
Nearly five times the risk of cancer death
The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 18 million adults suffer from severe sleep-disordered breathing, known as sleep apnea. It even affects two to three percent of children.
This unhealthy sleeping pattern can have life-threatening ramifications, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease including sudden cardiac arrest, higher incidence of car wrecks, diabetes, depression, pneumonia, erectile dysfunction, and even osteoporosis.
Cancer is yet another risk to add to the list, confirmed by a 2012 study.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found from a long-term sleep study that those with sleep apnea are nearly five times more likely to die of cancer than people without it.
The 1,522 people who participated in the project underwent an overnight sleep study every four years. Those with severe sleep-disordered breathing were 4.8 times more likely to die of cancer, after accounting for other factors that affect cancer risk (age, gender, weight, smoking).
Each level of sleep apnea corresponded to varying cancer risks:
Spanish study confirms the worst
A second study in Spain analyzed 5,246 patients from seven sleep clinics.
This study took a slightly different approach, looking at incidence instead of mortality, by counting the number of times oxygen blood levels dropped below 90 percent at night.
The greater the oxygen depletion during sleep, the more likely a cancer diagnosis.
Those with O2 levels below 90 percent for up to 12 percent of their sleep time had a 68% (about two-thirds) greater risk of cancer than those with normal O2. Oxygen deprivation may be associated with more cancer – of all types. Young or male patients had an even stronger link.
A third study compared mice with melanoma and sleep apnea, versus mice with melanoma and regular breathing. It showed faster and greater cancer growth in animals with intermittent low levels of oxygen.
Does that mean sleep apnea causes cancer?
It’s important to note that none of these studies prove OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) is a direct cause of cancer. But they do establish an association: The two often occur side by side. And the facts point to a breakthrough in medical understanding of oxygen deprivation during sleep.
Scientists don’t yet know whether it’s low O2 or disrupted sleep that wreaks havoc on health. Most likely, it’s both.
In my experience, sleep apnea is almost always found in people suffering from obesity, who are diabetic, or prediabetic. And assuming this isn’t the first issue of Cancer Defeated you’ve ever read, you know that high blood sugar is a common underlying cause of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and many other medical problems.
About the other risks of sleep apnea
Australian researchers found that moderate or severe OSA came with nearly a four-fold (3.7) risk of stroke, and a quadrupled risk of death from any cause.
The disorder may also lead to long-term brain injury. A 2008 study found a connection between sleep apnea and 20% tissue loss in the memory-storing part of the brain.i
A 2011 study confirms that sleep apnea poses a danger to your mind and memory. The sleep disorder boosts the risk of dementia later in life.ii
Add to that a danger you probably wouldn’t expect: increased risk of osteoporosis.iii
Do you forget to breathe while you sleep?
A good friend of mine keeps a little sign on her desk:
Things to do today:
- Breathe in
- Breathe out
It’s cute, but for victims of sleep apnea, it’s no joke. Failing to breathe in and out is exactly their problem.
The Greek word “apnea” literally means “without breath”.
Sleep apnea is a condition where you stop breathing off and on while you sleep. Unintentionally, of course. It makes you wake up and gasp or snort for breath repeatedly, all night long. Sometimes hundreds of times during the night, with some lapses lasting a minute or longer.
When you sleep, your muscles relax and get limp, even your throat muscles, potentially enough to block your airway.
Each apnea event rouses your brain just enough to get you breathing again, but not enough to trigger a full awakening. So you may be unaware you’re waking up just enough to gasp for breath.
The fallout of this is an extremely fragmented, poor quality sleep. During the day, you feel like a walking zombie.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive (OSA, the most common, and therefore our focus), central, and mixed.
OSA is caused by a blockage of your airway, usually when soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses and closes during sleep. In central sleep apnea, your airway isn’t blocked, but your brain fails to signal your muscles to breathe. Mixed is a combination of the two.
Millions of cases go undiagnosed – Don’t make this mistake
Certain characteristics can predispose you to have sleep apnea:
Daytime drowsiness is a telltale sign
Unusual sleepiness during the day is a hint that you may have sleep apnea. Do you ever doze off while driving, at work, or while watching TV or reading a book?
You may think you’re sleeping fine, but excessive daytime drowsiness indicates otherwise.
Another hint: tossing and turning all night. It’s your body’s emergency tactic to wake you up enough to breathe.
If your bed partner or roommate notices periods of silence (no breathing) followed by gasping and resumed breathing, see your doctor. Sleep apnea is nothing to mess around with.
How doctors diagnose sleep apnea
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and daytime drowsiness, do a physical exam, and check blood work to rule out thyroid problems.
They may send you to a hospital or sleep center for a Nocturnal Polysomnography (sleep test), where a series of electrodes on your body record your brain waves, eye movements, leg movements, oxygen levels, heart rhythms/respiration, and muscle tone, while you sleep.
They might use an oximeter to measure your blood oxygen levels. With sleep apnea, your levels drop during those times when you stop breathing. You can also measure this at home.
Thirdly, they’ll rate you on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to assess daytime sleepiness. This short questionnaire asks about your probability of falling asleep in eight different situations. A score of 0 to 9 is normal; 10 to 24 indicates sleep apnea.
So you have sleep apnea – what now?
Depending on the results of your sleep study, you’ll be given options, generally falling into four camps.
Protect yourself today
No doubt more studies are needed to see if people who are treated for sleep apnea experience reduced rates of cancer and other medical problems compared to those who leave the problem untreated.
I wouldn’t wait. Play it safe by finding out whether you have sleep apnea. If you do, start therapy for it.
Anecdotal accounts of people who were diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea indicate they were shocked to discover how much energy they now had. This in turn helped them achieve weight loss and other goals. And it led to clearer thinking and concentration during the day.
The bottom line is that it just could give you many more years to live.
In the previous issue of Cancer Defeated we covered the newly discovered benefits of cinnamon for cancer prevention and treatment. If you missed it, you can read it now by clicking here.
Lee Euler, Publisher