Risk of death higher among adults with sleep problems: study

March 30, 2011

Darien, IL – The risk of death among older adults with both sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness is 2 times higher than that of the general population, indicates a study published in the April 1 issue of SLEEP (Vol. 34, No. 4).

Researchers examined 289 adults with a mean age of 78 for the study. Participants were surveyed about their daytime sleepiness and tested for sleep apnea in a sleep laboratory. Approximately 55 percent of participants had died when a follow-up was conducted 14 years later. Adults with moderate-to-severe sleep apnea who reported excessive daytime sleepiness were twice as likely to die as other participants.

“The risk of increased mortality only seemed to occur when sleep apnea was also present,” said lead author Nalaka S. Gooneratne, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia. Gooneratne added that sleep apnea affects up to 20 percent of older adults.

Researchers were unclear as to why sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness increase the risk of death, but they suggest inflammation may increase the risk of other medical problems, such as hypertension.