The study, which was conducted over two decades by researchers from Nagasaki University Graduate School of Biomedical Science in Japan, was the first of its kind to use a large number of subjects. Researchers studied 1,453 people, some of whom were considered normal sleepers while others had been diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe sleep apnea.
None of the participants had type 2 diabetes when the study began, but after 13 years, researchers discovered that 285 of them had developed the condition. They found that those who suffered from severe sleep apnea were 70% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than normal sleepers.
Sleep apnea causes a person’s airway to become partially or completely obstructed during sleep. As a result, breathing intermittently stops and starts. An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and between two and 4% of all Americans are believed to have undiagnosed sleep apnea.
According to the World Health Organization, about one in 10 adults have diabetes. One condition that most certainly links diabetes and sleep apnea is obesity. Extensive past research has shown that obesity increases the risk of both conditions separately. However, this new study suggests that there may be a direct link between obstructive sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.
“These findings underscore the need to prevent sleep apnea and screen for sleep apnea in patients particularly at risk for developing diabetes,” said Paul E. Peppard, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Behaviors such as healthy weight maintenance and reducing time in sedentary activities would simultaneously reduce the risk (of) developing sleep apnea and diabetes.”
According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, roughly 38,000 deaths occur each year that relate to cardiovascular problems connected to sleep apnea. In fact, studies show that untreated sleep apnea sufferers are three times more likely to have heart disease than normal sleepers.
Fortunately, there are treatment options for individuals suffering from the sleep disorder. Sleep apnea machines and CPAP masks can help a person sleep through the night without interruptions to their breathing.