Sleep Apnea, Diabetes Linked in Largest-Ever Study

We have long had evidence that diabetes and sleep apnea are linked, but now the evidence is stronger than ever, thanks to a new study out of Canada. The study also highlights the role of REM sleep disturbance that may undermine the effectiveness of CPAP in prevention.

This study highlights again why sleep apnea treatment is important to reduce risks of related health conditions.

The Largest Study Ever

In the largest-ever study to look at this connection, researchers followed more than 8500 adults for an average of five and a half years to show that sleep apnea increased the risk a person would develop diabetes.

To choose people for the study, they looked at people who had a diagnostic sleep test from 1994 to 2010, but didn’t have diabetes when the sleep test was performed. They were followed from the date of their sleep test until May 2011. Based on the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) determined during the sleep study, people were classified as having mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea, or as having no sleep apnea.

Nearly 12% of patients developed diabetes during follow-up. After correcting for known risk factors, such as BMI, neck circumference, smoking, income level, age, and sex, they found that severe sleep apnea was correlated with a 30% increase in diabetes risk, while mild or moderate sleep apnea was correlated with a 23% increase in risk.

Highlighting Mechanisms of Causation

In addition to pointing to an increased risk, the study also focused on certain mechanisms of sleep apnea that might contribute to diabetes risk, such as disturbance of REM sleep, loss of sleep overall, reduced oxygen saturation, and sympathetic nervous system disturbance, indicated by elevated heart rate.

The correlation of these specific risk factors strengthens the link.

Limits of the Study

The study’s size and length make it a powerful confirmation of the link between sleep apnea and diabetes, but it does have some important limits. First, because it lacks information about certain confounders like a family history of diabetes and race information.

But these limits do not undermine the main findings of the study, that sleep apnea can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes is just one of many risks associated with sleep apnea. If you are a snorer who suspects sleep apnea or if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and are looking for a comfortable treatment option, please call 402-493-4175 today for an appointment at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha.