Elizabethan author, Thomas Dekker, who once wrote that “Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” Medical research appears to agree; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Sleep Foundation, 35.2% of adults in the United States sleep less than seven hours a day. Stressful lifestyles, less exercise, and unhealthy eating can be significant reasons behind this. Many studies have supported the fact that sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, and interrupted sleep can be a significant risk factor for many diseases.
The condition known as sleep apnea, in which a snorer briefly stops breathing, can lead to cardiovascular difficulties—and is often associated with arrhythmia, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart failure. “The evidence is very strong for the relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension and cardiovascular disease generally, so people really need to know that,” said Donna Arnett, PhD, dean and professor of epidemiology at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health in Lexington and former president of the American Heart Association.
While mild sleep apnea is a fairly common problem that affects one in five adults, the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which weight on the upper chest and neck leads to blockage of the flow of air. OSA is associated with obesity, another major risk factor for stroke and heart disease, and additional clinical research suggests that OSA predisposes people to hypertension and atherosclerosis. Because patients with OSA are often obese, they frequently have an increased prevalence of numerous other cardiovascular risk factors, including type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Moreover, findings recently published in Diabetes Care indicate a bidirectional association between obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes. While previous research has demonstrated a more complex correlation between diabetes and OSA, this is the first study to date that has evaluated the potential relationship between the two disorders. Investigators in the study used data from the Nurses’ Health Study (2002-2012), Nurses’ Health Study II (1995-2003), and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1996-2012). At the outset, all participants showed no indications of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.