New research has found that even a single episode of sleep apnea interferes with the body’s ability to regulate the blood pressure.
Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus performed this new study, which found that even just six hours of fluctuating oxygen saturation levels commonly seen in sleep apnea cases seriously impacts and deteriorates a person’s circulatory system as well.
Sleep apnea is a condition that is characterized by frequent starts and stops in breathing during sleep. It can directly result in several long periods of low oxygen saturation levels in the body, which is referred to as intermittent hypoxia.
Glen Foster, assistant professor of exercise and health science at UBC, noted that it is a well-known fact that sleep apnea is directly linked to hypertension (high blood pressure); however, this study shows that sleep apnea has an immediate impact on the heart and circulatory system, which can happen in a single day or a single episode of sleep apnea. Even as little as six hours of constant fluctuations in oxygen levels, Mr. Foster notes, can seriously limit the body’s ability to regulate the blood pressure.
The changes were noted to occur immediately in healthy adults who were not at risk or experiencing any long-term effects or symptoms of sleep apnea.
This study included an examination of how intermittent hypoxia affected the cardiovascular systems in 10 healthy young adults over the age of 18. All of the participants wore a ventilation mask for six hours during sleep, during which time oxygen levels were manipulated to mimic symptoms of sleep apnea.
It was a notable finding in this study that sleep apnea seriously compromised the person’s baroreceptor function. Baroreceptors are the biological sensors responsible for regulating blood pressure. Furthermore, the study found damage to the blood flow patterns in legs, indicating there was a disturbance in circulation and suggesting risk of impaired vascular health.
Mr. Foster notes that the findings are indicative of the need for interventions in those who have sleep apnea because of the risk of blood pressure and vascular problems.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 5.4 million Canadians either have or are at risk of developing sleep apnea. The numbers in the U.S. are even greater. This research was published in the American Journal of Physiology, and will likely be followed by additional research on the overall effects of sleep apnea.
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Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.