First of all, what is sleep apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a disorder marked by pauses in breathing during sleep. This disorder occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat are too relaxed, blocking off the upper airway when you try to take a breath. A patient suffering from sleep apnea can wake up anywhere from 5 to over 100 times per hour. You can read more about sleep apnea here. But importantly, sleep apnea doesn’t just affect your sleep: the disorder carries over to almost every facet of waking life. In this blog, we will be discussing the effects of sleep apnea on various kinds of performance.
The effects of sleep deprivation on athletic performance are well documented. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of sleep deprivation. It is obvious that waking up numerous times throughout the night is not conducive to restorative and regenerative sleep. A good night’s rest is essential to athletic performance.
Here is why:
- Lack of sleep causes decreased energy levels, which doesn’t translate well into the weight room.
- Sleep Apnea deprives your body of oxygen. In some patients, their oxygen levels reflect that of a mountain climber mid-trek. This deprivation of oxygen makes it harder to exercise when you are awake, and it makes exercise less efficient.
- Your muscles require oxygen to function properly. If your body is low in the oxygen it needs to convert glucose into energy, your body will end up creating lactic acid. Lactic acid is the byproduct of anaerobic respiration— the production of energy without oxygen. Importantly, lactic acid is responsible for muscle fatigue. One study that measured VO2 max— the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise— found that those with sleep apnea had a 14% lower VO2 max than those without the disorder. As you can see, a good night’s sleep is crucial for optimal performance in the weight room.
- Sleep apnea may also decrease your metabolism, making it harder to burn fat. Athletes need to be in tip-top shape, and sleep apnea may be a factor in inhibiting an athlete from reaching his or her goals. Sleep apnea is especially prevalent in bigger athletes, like football players and basketball players. These athletes tend to have more mass, which can contribute to blocking the upper airway. Check out this video of Shaq, the famous former NBA player, talk about his sleep apnea.
- In addition, OSA can affect hormone levels. Two hormones of particular note in relation to sleep apnea are leptin—which is responsible for letting your body know that it is full—and ghrelin—which is responsible for telling your body that it is hungry. Sleep Apnea has been documented reducing leptin and increasing ghrelin. This combination can lead to weight gain and overall unhealthy eating decisions, which, in turn, can negatively affect athletic performance.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea can also negatively affect a patient’s psychological well-being and cognitive performance. Indeed, a major consequence of OSA is impaired cognitive functioning. The research states that OSA can lead to defects in memory, attention, and executive functions. Although the cognitive impairment in individuals with OSA is largely recognized as mild, research suggests that OSA is also connected to dementia and neuropsychiatric disorders. Indeed, one study found that people who had Alzheimer’s disease were five times more likely to have sleep apnea than those without Alzheimer’s.
Another study found that persons with sleep apnea developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) 10 years earlier than those without sleep apnea. Mild cognitive impairment is defined as a decline in cognition, including concentration, orientation, communication, and memory. The good news is that people who treated their apnea with CPAP gained about 10 years of cognitive functioning. Those who treated their apnea developed MCI at approximately age 82, and those who didn’t treat their apnea developed MCI at approximately age 72.
As far as general cognitive performance goes, sleep apnea poses a serious problem. Everyone knows what it feels like to drive slightly tired. Research has shown that patients with sleep apnea were more than twice as likely to be the driver in a motor vehicle accident. Indeed, drowsy driving contributes to 21% of fatal car crashes, making it comparable to drunk driving.
Other research has found that after 20 hours of being awake, drowsy drivers are impaired on a level equatable to .08% blood alcohol content. After 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to .1% blood alcohol content.
Sleep Apnea has a well-documented relationship with hindering sexual performance. Sexual health is an important part of general wellbeing, and a healthy sex life tends to result in a higher quality of life scores. As you are beginning to see, sleep apnea does not only affect your sleep.
Research has found a high prevalence of erectile dysfunction in men with sleep apnea. A 2009 study found that 69% of male participants diagnosed with OSA also had ED. In addition, a 2016 study found similar results, with 63% of participants having ED.
Scientists still aren’t completely sure why a relationship between ED and OSA exists. But there are a few theories. One centers around the fact that sleep apnea is the leading cause of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, and fatigue has been known to make sexual problems worse.
Low libido is also common among sleep apnea patients. Sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea may also cause a man’s testosterone to dip, and testosterone is crucial for both healthy erections and libido. In general, testosterone levels play a major part in a man’s sex drive, and any irregular changes can cause problems.
What to do if you think you might have sleep apnea:
As you can tell, sleep apnea has ramifications that extend far beyond the realm of sleep. OSA affects performance on all levels, decreasing quality of life along the way. If you think you might have sleep apnea, download Ognomy, the virtual platform that offers a robust end-to-end diagnosis and treatment plan for sleep apnea. A better night’s sleep has never been so easy.