Man-sleeping-and-snoring-overhead-viewSleep apnea can increase blood sugar and fat levels, stress hormones, and blood pressure, even if it’s left untreated for just a few days, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The study also produced additional support for the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to keep the airway open in treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which affects 20% to 30% of adults.

“This is one of the first studies to show real-time effects of sleep apnea on metabolism during the night,” said Johnathan Jun, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the school and senior author of the study.

OSA has been associated with risks for diabetes and heart disease, yet there has been no consensus on whether it causes these disorders or if it is just a marker of obesity, which predisposes patients to diabetes and heart disease. Also, previous metabolic studies of patients with OSA usually collected data while participants were awake, obtaining a snapshot of its aftermath, not the actual sleep period when OSA occurs.

To better understand how OSA affects metabolism, the researchers measured free fatty acids in the blood, glucose, insulin, and the stress hormone cortisol while participants slept in a sleep laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The participants’ brainwaves, blood oxygen levels, heart rates, and breathing, along with eye and leg movements, were recorded each night of the study.

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