Sleep-Disordered Breathing (SDB) impacts an estimated 17 percent of U.S. adults, according to researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Many people are totally unaware they have a problem, despite the reality SDB robs individuals of as much as half of their deeper, restorative stages of sleep at night.
"While therapies are available for the disorder, the majority of adults with SDB are not being treated, and many people are resistant to therapy," explained Antonella Zanobetti, PhD, one of three researchers in a recent study.
Exerting influence on the severity of SDB are three factors, according to the Boston group: pollution, air temperature, and obesity.
To examine the role environmental factors may play in SDB, the researchers studied 3,000 individuals, analyzing the impact of air pollution levels in the form of particulate matter and of higher temperatures associated with summer months.
"We found novel evidence for pollution and temperature effects on sleep-disordered breathing," noted Zanobetti in a study published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. "Increases in apnea or hypopnea...were associated with increases in short-term temperature over all seasons and with increases in particle pollution levels in the summer months."
Findings of the study suggest "one mechanism for poor sleep and sleep health disparities may be related to environmental pollution levels," she noted.
SDB is often grouped alongside obstructive sleep apnea in similarity, but they are really not the same thing. SDB is a more complex breathing condition endangering health by two physiological processes: sleep fragmentation and oxygen fluctuations, according to experts at sleeptreatment.com.
SDB triggers hundreds of little nighttime awakenings, which cause sleep fragmentation.
On the oxygen fluctuation side, SDB causes saturation shifts that can drop oxygen below normal levels of 90 percent to 100 percent for as many as 30 seconds before returning to normal.
Whereas the hallmark of OSA is a cessation of breathing for short spurts, this is not necessarily true in SDB where efforts to bring in a full breath are compromised through hypopneas or flow limitations.
Increased attention is being focused on SDB of late because it is a known cause of cardiovascular diseases, and timely treatments can stave off health concerns.
Adding some health care precautions to their study, researchers noted the prevalence of SDB in the U.S. may increase as more residents gravitate into the obesity range.
"Along with reductions in obesity, these new data suggest that reductions in air pollution exposure might decrease severity of SDB and nocturnal hypoxia and may improve cardiac risk," explained Zonabetti.
The study sheds more importance on the critical importance of adequate sleep to health and well being, noted John Heffner, MD, past president of the American Thoracic Society.
Because SDB increases risks for cardiovascular disease, strokes, and other major health conditions, all factors that contribute to the sleep disruptions need to be placed in the remediation-needed category. While little can be done to control outdoor temperatures, more can be done to control pollution levels and obesity.