The constant stress of "fight-or-flight" mode out of deep sleep may exacerbate other health problems over time.
A common breathing disorder that disrupts sleep also, over time, increases the risk of death, a study in the August Sleep suggests. But people who use a nighttime breathing apparatus face less risk, the research shows.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder marked by gaps in breathing during sleep that rob the blood of oxygen until a person gasps for air. People with apnea stop breathing many times in an hour, which can jar them out of restful sleep and wreak havoc with blood pressure, heart rate and internal stress responses.
In the United States, about one in six people may have sleep apnea, with one-fourth of those cases severe, Terry Young, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, estimates.
Sleep apnea has received widespread attention as a health problem in the past 15 years, but data generated by Young’s team suggest 85 percent of sleep apnea cases still go undetected.