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Do common sleep disorders increase mortality risk? Here’s what experts say

“This is the first study to assess mortality risk in participants with co-morbid insomnia and sleep apnea,” said Dr Lechat, who led the research

sleep disordersSleep disorders can be fatal as per a new study (representational) (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

A new study has revealed that common sleep disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea can lead to cardiovascular issues which may also prove to be fatal. The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, noted that people who suffer from a combination of the two sleep disorders are more vulnerable to early death.

“Insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea are the two most common sleep disorders, affecting 10 to 30 per cent of the population, but people can often suffer from both at the same time,” said Dr Bastien Lechat from Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute: Sleep Health.

“Previously, little was known about the impact of co-morbid insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea (COMISA) but what we did know is that for people with both conditions, health outcomes are consistently worse than those with neither condition nor those with either condition alone,” Lechat added.

The Flinders University researchers have now also studied a large US-based dataset of over 5,000 people to comprehend the risks of COMISA.

The participants were in the age of 60 at the beginning of the study with 52 per cent female, who were followed for approximately a period of 15 years. The study period witnessed 1,210 people die.

As per the study, participants with COMISA were two times more likely to have high blood pressure and 70 per cent more likely to have cardiovascular disease than participants with neither insomnia nor sleep apnea. It also suggested that participants with COMISA had 47 per cent increased risk of dying (for any reason) in comparison to participants with neither of the sleep disorders.

“This is the first study to assess mortality risk in participants with co-morbid insomnia and sleep apnea,” said Dr Lechat, who led the research.


“Given that these people are at higher risk of experiencing adverse health outcomes, it is important that people undergoing screening for one disorder should also be screened for the other,” Lechat added.

What are these sleep disorders all about?

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterised by periodic cessation of airflow leading to significant reduction in blood levels of oxygen and frequent arousals. “It is more commonly observed in men, post-menopausal women and those with obesity or with upper airway anatomical abnormalities. They are associated with excessive snoring, frequent awakening from sleep, early morning headaches, lethargy, and tendency to fall asleep during day time, mentioned Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, Consultant Interventional Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad.

He also mentioned how insomnia, which is characterised by the inability to initiate or maintain sleep, starts affecting day to day activities, which can be an acute or a chronic phenomenon.

What causes sleep disorders?


As per Dr Satya Ranjan Sahu, Consultant Pulmonologist, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram, sleep disorders occur primarily due to lifestyle and psychiatric causes.

“Obesity and stress are the two major factors causing them. They play a key role in worsening prognosis of previous comorbid diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, and hypertension. Early diagnosis and lifestyle modification are some of the preventive measures,” he said.

What can be done?

As per Dr Balasubramanian, early identification and appropriate management with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, and other surgical modalities may result in reduction in morbidity and mortality. “In addition, several studies have shown that the highest risk of mortality in sleep apnoea occurs in patients younger than 50 years of age and the risk tends to decline with age,” Dr Subramaniam said.

He added how non-pharmacological treatment for insomnia can help. “Adopting modalities like adhering to sleep hygiene measures and the use of non-pharmacological treatment for insomnia like cognitive therapy are emphasised,” he said.

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First published on: 27-12-2021 at 15:00 IST
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