Blog > Sleep apnea > Can You Be Killed By Sleep Apnea?

Can You Be Killed By Sleep Apnea?

image if can sleep apnea kill you

A sudden awakening while sleeping can occur without being triggered by stress or anxiety. This is because sleep interruptions and breathing pauses during sleep are usually because of sleep apnea.

This condition is prevalent in men, women and children, although it has a higher rate of occurrence in men. It is often undiagnosed and can have detrimental effects on your health and wellbeing.

Sleep apnea does not kill, however it can lead to serious medical problems. People with this condition also experience loud snoring or snorting, gasping for air during sleep, decrease in breathing, attention and concentration.

Living with this condition without treatment can have lifelong consequences on your body, including the heart, lungs and kidney.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects 12 per cent of the population. It is more prevalent in men and characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. People who have sleep apnea often experience snoring, gasping or snorting during sleep, fatigue and sleepiness, mood swings and difficulty concentrating.

This occurs when the upper airway is blocked, leading to a stopped or reduced flow of air. Sometimes, the brain may fail to send the required signals needed to breathe and result in central sleep apnea. When air stops flowing through the airways for a few seconds or minutes, an abrupt awakening occurs to reopen blocked passage and allow air to pass freely again.

Sleep apnea can destabilize and be accompanied by frequent interruptions with sudden awakening during sleep. This condition is prone to occur in infants, children, and adults. The most typical sign of sleep apnea is loud snoring, however, this is not applicable to every individual since it sometimes goes unnoticed.

There are 3 types of sleep apnea, each with similar symptoms occurring during sleep and more severe than the other. They are obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea.

Types Of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common type is known as OSA and exists because of a mechanical problem that closes off the upper airway.

Central Sleep Apnea

A less common sleep apnea arises because of a neurological factor. It is much more difficult to diagnose and closely linked to the brain. This condition occurs when the brain cannot send proper messages to the muscle in charge of breathing.

Complex Sleep Apnea

This is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. The exact overview of complex sleep apnea is yet to be known, however, it first shows as obstructive sleep apnea.

What Are The Signs Of Sleep Apnea

Symptoms of sleep apnea are different for men, women and children. Women experience headaches, depression, sleep disruption, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety. While bed-wetting, hyperactivity, academic learning and performance problems are prevalent in children.

Other signs are:

  • Waking with a dry mouth and sore throat
  • Occasional loud snoring
  • Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
  • Sudden awakening and gasping for air during sleep
  • Loss of concentration and attention
  • Headaches when you wake up in the morning
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Frequent interruptions when sleeping at night
  • Intermittent decrease in breathing

Effects Of Sleep Apnea

Chronic or severe complications may arise if sleep apnea is left undiagnosed and untreated. Some of which are:

Cognitive and Behavioral Disorders

One impact of sleep apnea is dementia in adults and learning disabilities in children. Difficulties concentrating, paying attention and vigilance are also likely to occur.

Complications in Pregnancy

Pregnant women are not left out, they have high blood pressure and may sometimes have a child with low weight.

Heart Problems

The rate of having certain heart and blood vessel diseases is increased with sleep apnea. Diseases like the inability to control high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart failure and stroke are prone to occur.


People with sleep apnea may also experience respiratory disorders like asthma and other breathing-related problems. This is not restricted to age or gender.

Other complications include cancer, kidney diseases, eye disorders and metabolic issues.

What Causes Sleep Apnea

It is usually caused by physical structures and underlying medical conditions such as:


Being overweight leads to an increase in body mass and fats. These fats are usually deposited in the neck and eventually block airways.

Specific Syndromes

Special genetics syndrome-like Down syndrome, cleft lip, and cleft palate can cause sleep apnea. This is because the facial structure is smaller and the tongue sits further back in the mouth.


An increase or decrease in some hormones, including thyroid, that controls the brain and breathing, affect your body’s natural functionality process and leads to sleep apnea.

Medical Diseases

People suffering from advanced heart and kidney failure are more likely to have sleep apnea compared to others.

How Is Breathing Affected During Sleep?

Sleep is a basic biological function necessary for a natural and balanced quality of life. When asleep, your conscious level decreases, putting you in a more relaxed state that sometimes makes you unaware of your surroundings.

There are Psychological changes in sleep that affect your body system, like temperature regulation, immune system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, renal and gastrointestinal system.

The number of breaths taken during sleep varies for every individual and is greatly influenced by your metabolic rate.

Most people breathe slowly when they are asleep with the respiratory rate increasing in each successive stage of sleep. A normal respiratory rate depends on age, however, children are known to have a faster rate than adults.

An increase or decrease in breathing rate can happen for different reasons. An abnormal or decreased rate is called sleep apnea, while a spike or increase is known as tachypnea. Factors responsible for this include anxiety, asthma, health conditions, heartburns, allergic reaction, drug use, panic attacks, heart failure, lung problems, and many more.

When Does Sleep Apnea Become Detrimental

Sleep apnea, unlike other conditions, does not dissipate on its own. Although it may go unnoticed and undiagnosed in some people.  It first starts as a simple mechanical problem where obstructive sleep apnea occurs and is characterized by blocked airways. This is easily treated and corrected by abrupt waking which reopens blocked airways.

However other sleep apnea types are not as simple, it becomes detrimental when left untreated for too long. For instance, with central sleep apnea, this exists because of neuromuscular and neurological factors where the brain cannot send proper signals to the nerves and muscles in charge of breathing. This is a more critical problem that can be detrimental.

Sleep apnea becomes debilitating when it affects or clashes with your productivity levels causes sleepiness during the daytime, triggers mood swings, anxiety, and also causes sleep disruption. These and more can negatively affect your overall functionality and well being.

Can Sleep Apnea Kill You?

Sleep apnea itself is unlikely to cause death, however, it can trigger and increase your risk of developing specific conditions that can lead to death if prolonged without proper treatment. It can result in short and long-term problems that vary in severity.

Health consequences associated with sleep apnea include high blood pressure, heart diseases, hypertension and diabetes. These can result in chronic situations that require a complicated treatment process.

Daytime sleepiness, fatigue, difficulty paying attention and concentrating, and being vigilant can also make you susceptible to accidents that may be fatal or result in death. Depression and memory problems are also prone to occur.

The effects of sleep apnea can be life-threatening and can cause serious harm to you if it is not diagnosed on time.

Treatment For Sleep Apnea

Treatment depends on your condition and its severity, sometimes it requires a mild method.

Breathing Devices

Most people use a CPAP machine to help counteract sleep apnea. This device is worn over the mouth or nose, there is a mask attached to it that gently pumps air while sleeping. It helps improve the quality of sleep, breathing, and reduces the risk of other health problems related to sleep apnea.

Facial muscles therapy

Oral facial therapy involves mouth therapy for children and adults to help strengthen muscles that control the tongue, lips and face. It also helps improve tongue positioning.


Surgery is only required in more severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea that do not respond to breathing devices and therapy.

Healthy Lifestyle

You can adopt some of these healthy lifestyle choices to help treat, control and cope with sleep apnea.

  • Reduce alcohol intake and focus on healthy eating
  • Practice regular exercises and physical activity
  • Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking and other unhealthy choices that affect your heart, kidney, and lungs.
  • Stick to a regular sleep hour and get enough rest
  • Do not take alcohol right before going to bed
  • Stop using sleeping pills not recommended by your doctor or health center
  • Sleep on your side to allow easy flow of air


It is no new knowledge that sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues and aggravate underlying medical conditions. Visit your health center for treatment and speak to your doctor if you notice complications.

Avoid self-medication and use drugs only recommended by your doctor. Practice healthy lifestyle choices, check on your child regularly for signs since children can also have sleep disorders.

Was this article helpful?

Most popular

Most discussed