As part of World Sleep Day (March 14), ResMed has released a list of the top five research discoveries about sleep apnea from the past year. The discoveries “paint an alarming picture” of sleep apnea, according to the company.
1. Sleep apnea is linked to higher rates of cancer
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) deprives the body of oxygen (also known as hypoxia), which may lead to higher rates of cancer in patients under the age of 65.
OSA occurs when the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, causing a person to snore and/or stop breathing until the brain triggers a wake-up response and the body struggles to gasp for air.
2. Sleep apnea increases risk of sudden cardiac death
A population study of over 10,000 adults found that OSA predicted incident sudden cardiac death (SCD), and the magnitude of risk was predicted by multiple parameters characterizing OSA severity.
“Oxygen is our fuel and without it we cease to exist,” said Jeff Armitstead, PhD, ResMed-Asia Pacific’s vice president of Medical Affairs. “Something like sleep apnea which reduces our oxygen supply and is directly associated with things like sudden cardiac death must be taken very seriously.”
3. Untreated sleep apnea slows recovery from heart attacks
In a study of 56 patients, sleep-disordered breathing was associated with less myocardial salvage and a smaller reduction in infarct size. The findings suggest a contribution of SDB to impaired healing of myocardial infarction.
“This research is startling because it reveals that if you suffer from untreated sleep apnea and have a heart attack, your heart will not heal like a person’s heart without sleep apnea,” said Armitstead.
4: Treatment for sleep apnea can reduce blood pressure 
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials compared the reduction of blood pressure by continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) therapy with other passive and active treatments. Researchers found that treatment of sleep apnea  with CPAP therapy “significantly” reduces blood pressure in sleep apnea patients.
5: Sleep apnea is increasing among men and women
The latest data on the prevalence of sleep apnea in adults shows that the rates have gone up substantially over the last two decades. Among adults 30-70 years of age, it is estimated that 13 percent of men and 6 percent of women have moderate to severe sleep apnea, compared to the earlier results (9 percent of men and 4 percent of women). In addition, the number of those with at least mild sleep apnea has jumped for both men (26 to 34 percent) and women (13 to 17 percent).
Together, the research findings demonstrate that untreated, sleep apnea can severely affect quality of life, health, and mortality and continues to be strongly linked to a long list of life-threatening, chronic diseases. But education remains a key obstacle to effective treatment, according to ResMed.
“Today, getting tested and treated for sleep apnea is easier than ever,” said Armitstead. “With the latest therapy, patients can not only get more sleep, they can get better sleep, and that means better health.”