A study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (March 24, 2005), showed that adultswith obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are more prone to die unexpectedly from cardiac problemswhile they are asleep. The researchers based their findings on the death records of 112 participants.The participants died suddenly from cardiac causes after participating in sleep studies at theMayo Clinic Sleep Disorder Center between 1987 and 2003.
Of the 112 participants, 78 patients had been diagnosed with OSA. The results of the study indicatedthat sudden cardiac death occurred between midnight and 6 AM in 46% of the participantswith OSA and 21% with other diagnoses. The pattern is not the same in the general populationbecause 16% of cardiac deaths happen during sleep, noted the researchers.
The investigators discovered that death during sleep was connected with severity of OSA. Theynoted that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a treatment used for OSA. Although theirresearch does not provide any conclusive evidence about CPAP's role in stopping sudden deathduring sleep, the researchers said the treatment is linked with several mechanisms that could lowerthe risk of sleep-apnea—induced heart disease.