A New Link Between Insufficient Exercise & Sleep Apnea

According to a new study coming from the University of California San Diego, people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a disease that interrupts normal breathing patterns during sleep, may not be able to burn high enough levels of oxygen during strenuous aerobic exercise.

People who live with sleep apnea often experience gasping or snorting during sleep and never feel sufficiently restored after a night’s sleep. This condition has long been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, or irregular heartbeat.

Early markers for higher risk of stroke or heart attack is the maximum oxygen a person burns during strenuous exercise, a measure of exercise capacity known as VO2 max or peak VO2. This reading is usually measured during cardiopulmonary exercise testing. CPET consists of heart and lung assessment while participating in aerobic activity like pedaling an exercise bike.

This study’s authors note that although there is an increasing interest in using CPET to categorize obstructive sleep apnea patients in terms of heart risk, using VO2 max and CPET with sleep apnea patients may not be as simple as it might seem. One reason for this link could be that often those who suffer from sleep apnea are obese, and so, they aren’t expected to achieve a high fitness level anyway. However, the study showed that even when patients with sleep apnea were compared to people of similar body mass index, their findings were the same.

The UCSD team evaluated 15 men and women with a wide range of sleep apnea symptoms, assessing the severity of each patient’s condition. All patients underwent additional screenings to weed out those who may have had other sleep disorders that could interfere with the study. These participants were then compared to 19 control patients. During the CPET test, each participant was asked to pedal on a stationary exercise bike, gradually increasing the resistance until they reached the point of exhaustion. Those with moderate to severe sleep apnea had, on average, a 14% lower VO2 max than those participants who did not suffer from the condition.

These results combined with the CPET results show a link between sleep apnea severity (number of time breathing stops for 10 seconds or more per hour of sleep) and reduced VO2 max. The study concluded that obstructive sleep apnea is definitely linked to impaired exercise capacity, but further research is needed to evaluate if CPET can usefully contribute to the prognosis of sleep apnea patients.

For more information about obstructive sleep apnea or the ways in which FusionSleep can help you, schedule an appointment with our sleep specialists.