We are all familiar with the concept of a lifespan: it’s the number of years a person born today might expect to live. However, not as many people are familiar with the concept of a healthspan. However, as researchers recently pointed out in an editorial, that might be the most important concept for appreciating the true impact of sleep apnea.
What Is Your Healthspan?
A healthspan is related to the concept of a lifespan. But instead of looking at all the years of your life as being equal, the healthspan is only concerned with the years that you have to enjoy as a generally healthy individual. This is the time when you can be generally active, enjoy low medical bills, and not be in fear of relatively sudden death from major health conditions.
This is a concept focused more on your quality of life than simply on the extent of your life. And researchers worry that it is your healthspan that is chiefly threatened by sleep apnea.
Writing in Trends in Molecular Biology, researchers proposed that one of the chief effects of sleep apnea is to prematurely age people. Part of this, they said, is the association of sleep apnea with many age-related diseases.
For example, the association of sleep apnea and heart disease mimics an accelerated aging process. When the brain senses low blood oxygen levels, it tells the heart to pump harder and faster, accelerating wear on your heart.
And with Alzheimer’s disease, the condition also mimics the aging process. Alzheimer’s disease is related to the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain. This happens naturally over time, but in people with sleep apnea, the process is accelerated. That’s because sleep apnea interferes with the brain’s ability to remove beta-amyloid and other waste. These are just a couple of the age-related conditions that have been linked to sleep apnea. Others include:
- Parkinson disease
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Researchers propose that it isn’t just connection to these diseases that is leading to premature aging. They say that it’s actually the body showing even the microscopic markers of degeneration, including systemic inflammation, stem cell exhaustion, epigenetic changes and more.
Before We Expand Lifespan
Because sleep apnea is aging people faster, making them experience age-related illness at a much younger age, it limits their healthspan. Researchers say that if we want people to have quality lives, we need to address the issue of healthspan before we start talking about expanding people’s lifespans. And in order to expand people’s healthspan, it’s crucial to solve the problem of sleep apnea.
We also need to find the right kind of sleep apnea treatment. There is some question about whether a person who depends on CPAP feels healthy. Although CPAP may alleviate some of the symptoms of sleep apnea, it is an invasive, cumbersome treatment that may make a person feel unhealthy. Oral appliances, on the other hand, are noninvasive and able to treat sleep apnea without feeling like a major medical intervention. It is a much better way to maintain a person’s healthspan.
If you would like to learn more about how sleep apnea treatment can protect not just your lifespan, but also your healthspan, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with Omaha sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.