The Unfortunate Relationship between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and the Weather

Among an already large number of causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, colder weather can be added to the list. In a recent study conducted out of Brazil, links were found between the colder seasons and severity of sleep apnea symptoms. It has generally been known that environmental effects have some influence on sleep apnea, but there was not any definitive evidence until this study was published.

The research was lead by Cristiane Maria Cassol, who found that more sleep-disorder related episodes of obstructed breathing occurred with subjects in the winter months. The data for the study ranged over the span of a decade with more than 7,500 subjects. There is more than one reason for this correlation. The American Lung Association (ALA) states that drier, colder air can irritate air passageways, which leads to a shortness of breath from a constricted airway. Cassol’s team suspected that even the increased amount of burned carbon in the atmosphere, from the wood and coal fireplaces keeping homes warm during the winter, could be the cause. Silent Night Therapy recommends sleeping with a specialty made sleep apnea mouth guard to ensure that one’s teeth don’t deprive the lungs of oxygen. The Brazil study found that on average subjects suffered from roughly 15 breathless breaks in sleep during the summer months. In the winter months, this average bumped up to 18 breaks in normal sleep with many subjects experiencing a staggering 30 breathless breaks in their sleep. Out of all the subjects, 34% said that they had severe apnea in the winter where 28% reported severe apnea in the summer. Since the winter cold can weaken immune systems, the study didn’t rule out the fact that winter allergies and colds could have played a role in the increased severe apnea.

It is important to know that there are methods in place that help those with sleep apnea. CPAP machines are an amazing testament to modern medicine and were developed by Dr. Collin Sullivan back in 1980. Not everyone can afford them, however, so thousands suffer from sleep apnea without this medical assistance. The ALA recommends wearing a scarf around the neck and mouth area when experiencing colder weather. This helps warm the airways and reduces the irritation of dry air.

Sleep is vital for daily cognitive function and is the foundation for healthy living. Sleep should never be compromised or left to chance. If you or someone you know suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, make sure their CPAP machines are ready for the winter.