During home monitoring of sleep patterns, the team amassed almost 10,000 in-depth recordings of breathing patterns, heart rhythms and brain activity during sleep.
After determining that about half the patients had moderate to severe sleep apnea, the researchers went on to track the incidence of sickness or death from high blood pressure, heart disease and/or stroke.
Over a tracking period of a little more than eight years, on average, the research team found that 587 men and 460 women died during the study.
Stacking the death tallies against the sleep pattern recordings, the team found that experiencing just 11 minutes of severe sleep apnea -- during which blood oxygen levels dipped to below 90 percent of normal -- appeared to roughly double the risk of death among men.
The small number of women with severe sleep apnea who died during the study ruled out similar conclusions about women.
Nonetheless, Punjabi and his colleagues stressed that the findings were alarming enough to warrant diligent physician attention to patient sleeping habits, in order to intervene quickly when appropriate.
"With such mounting evidence indicating the range of clinical effects of sleep apnea, awareness amongst health care professionals and the general community needs to increase," Punjabi said.
Losing weight sometimes reduces sleep apnea, and some sufferers get relief using a device that keeps them from rolling on their backs while they sleep. For serious cases, a current treatment is the "continuous positive airway pressure" (CPAP) device, which functions as a kind of oxygen mask worn over the nose to help force air into nasal passageways and prevent airways from collapsing.
People with clinical symptoms of sleep apnea, which include loud snoring, sleepiness during the day and fatigue, should discuss their symptoms with a physician, Punjabi advised
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