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Older adults who have sleep apnea and who are excessively sleepy in the daytime may have more than twice the risk of death as people who do not have both conditions, new research published in the journal Sleep suggests.

In a study of 289 adults over age 65 without depression or dementia, the risk of death was not increased for people with sleep apnea without excessive daytime sleepiness or for those who reported only excessive daytime sleepiness without having sleep apnea, the researchers say.

“Excessive daytime sleepiness, when associated with sleep apnea, can significantly increase the risk of death in older adults,” study researcher Nalaka S. Gooneratne, MD, MSc, of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, says in a news release. “We did not find that being sleepy in and of itself was a risk. Instead, the risk of increased mortality only seemed to occur when sleep apnea was also present.”

In the study, 74% of participants were female. The mean age of participants at the start of the study was 78. About half of participants had significant levels of excessive daytime sleepiness and reported that they felt sleepy or struggled to stay awake during daylight hours at least three to four times per week.

Sleep apnoea testing was performed at night in a sleep lab. Participants in the study were recruited between 1993 and 1998. Survival status was determined by searching the Social Security death index, ending Sept. 1, 2009. The study says 160 people, or 55% of the participants, died during an average follow-up period of 14 years.

Those participants who had both sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness had a risk of death that was more than two times higher than those who did not have the combination of these conditions. The researchers say it’s unclear just why sleep apnea combined with excessive daytime sleepiness may increase the death risk of older adults. Whether treatment reduces the risk of death for these people remains to be tested.

Another new study published this month has warned that people with serious a cases of sleep apnea have 2.5 times more chance of suffering an ischemic stroke. This was confirmed in a study undertaken among 394 subjects aged 70 or more. “After studying the quality of their sleep, we tracked the volunteers over the course of six years. After which, 20 of the study subjects had suffered a stroke”, Roberto Munoz, a physician of the Neurology Service of the Hospital Complex of Navarra. The research was presented at the School of Medicine and the University of Navarra Hospital.

The fourth annual World Sleep Day held on 18 March  – ‘Sleep Well, Grow Healthy’ – was themed to highlight the importance of sleep for people of all ages. Newborn infants, children, adolescents and adults, both young and old, need quality sleep to maintain a healthy life.

The scale of the problem was highlighted by the recently published Philips Index for Health and Well-being report – a massive consumer research study conducted across 23 countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, involving more than 31,000 people, revealed that 35 percent of people do not feel they get enough sleep, impacting on both their physical and mental health.

Interestingly, with almost half of those responding citing ‘poor sleeper in general’ as a reason for sleep deprivation – it suggests that many may have just resigned themselves to not ever getting a good night’s sleep.

In reality, there are a number of potential causes for a disturbed night’s sleep. These include sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), which affects approximately 4 percent of the adult population. It’s a disorder characterized by airway collapse (behind the tongue) during sleep, which obstructs breathing. If untreated, it can contribute to the development of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. Snoring should also not be ignored in children, as it may be a symptom of OSA.

To find out more about World Sleep Day 2011, visit www.worldsleepday.org.

(source: extract from a Philips press release)

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