Human beings spend nearly one third of their life sleeping. It must be really important. This is borne out by the fact that people who are deprived of sleep on a regular basis are susceptible to the development of a wide variety of health problems. The immediate problem is stress, which in turn, can also produce a lot of problems. Long term consequences include development of serious medical problems like heart disease, obesity and neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer’s disease.
The three common causes for sleep deprivation are stress, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Sleep apnea is a field which is coming into prominence and which has been ignored for a long time. Sleep apnea is a condition where an individual stops breathing for a few seconds while sleeping. One of the major contributory factors in the development of sleep apnea is the onset of obesity. Obesity, of course, is the foundation on which several health problems are built. The presence of extra soft tissue around the airways can lead to obstruction causing breathing to stop. This condition is called obstructive sleep apnea. There is also central sleep apnea which involves changes in the respiratory center of the brain.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary arteries are small arteries which branch out from the aorta and go back to the heart. Thus, as the heart pumps out blood to supply various organs with oxygen and nutrients, the same function is performed by the coronary arteries with respect to the heart. Ageing is an irreversible process and brings with it several changes in the body. One of the consequences of ageing is the presence of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis, affecting the various arteries including the coronary arteries. Both these processes result in the hardening and thickening of the arteries (blood vessels lose their elasticity) and deposition of fatty materials like cholesterol in the arterial walls (the area for blood flow is drastically reduced). A block in one or more of the coronary arteries can produce a heart attack which may turn out to be fatal.
Abnormal blood vessels in sleep apnea
Recent findings suggest that sleep apnea can produce abnormalities in the blood vessels. These abnormalities may also contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. However, these abnormalities are not permanent and can easily be reversed. Thus, if sleep apnea can be successfully treated, the vascular abnormalities can also be removed. Since obesity is a major contributory factor for sleep apnea, reduction in obesity through lifestyle changes can reduce incidents of sleep apnea.