WESTCHESTER, Ill.Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep related breathing disorder that causes your body to stop breathing during sleep, can disturb your sleep numerous times on any given night. As a result, you may experience daytime sleepiness. Daytime sleepiness brought on by OSA may put you more at risk for cardiovascular problems, according to a study published in the December 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.

The study, lead by Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, focused on 86 patients with an average age of 47 years. All subjects were suspected of having OSA and submitted to a polysomnogram. Stroke volume and cardiac output were measured using impedance cardiography, while daytime sleepiness was quantified using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

The results showed that a higher Epworth Sleepiness Scale score, suggesting more daytime sleepiness, was independently associated with decreases in cardiac function.

“Patients with sleep apnea commonly complain of daytime sleepiness,” said Dimsdale. “Sleep physicians have sensibly attributed this sleepiness to the massively disrupted sleep in apnea. However, our findings suggest a darker side to this sleepiness, as well. The cardiac function in these patients is subtly impaired, perhaps contributing to the perception of sleepiness and fatigue that is so disabling for these patients.”

OSA occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway. This keeps air from getting into the lungs.

While the effects of OSA, including daytime sleepiness, alertness and concentration as well as increased risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease, are real and severe, there are safe and effective treatments available for those who have OSA. Scientific evidence shows that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the best treatment for OSA. CPAP provides a steady stream of pressurized air to patients through a mask that they wear during sleep. This airflow keeps the airway open, preventing the pauses in breathing that characterize sleep apnea and restoring normal oxygen levels.

Those suspecting they might have OSA, or another sleep disorder, are encouraged to make an appointment with a specialist at a sleep facility accredited by the AASM.

SLEEP is the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, a joint venture of the AASM and the Sleep Research Society.

SleepEducation.org, a website maintained by the AASM, provides information about the various sleep disorders that exist, the forms of treatment available, recent news on the topic of sleep, sleep studies that have been conducted and a listing of sleep facilities.

For a copy of this study, entitled, “Sleepiness in Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Harbinger of Impaired Cardiac Function?”, or to arrange an interview with an AASM spokesperson regarding this study, please contact Jim Arcuri, public relations coordinator, at (708)492-0930, ext. 9317, or jarcuri@aasm.org.