Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Insulin Resistance & Type II Diabetes

April 2, 2015

Man sleepingSome of you may wonder how Atlas Dentistry ties into sleep medicine, and why we are screening our patients for possible sleep apnea. More people than you may realize suffer from sleep apnea, 24% of men and 9% of woman, and often their symptoms are masked by other disorders and diseases. We want to provide optimal care and treatment for our patients, and we recognize that your oral health is part of your whole body health.

A good night’s sleep is imperative for the body to rest and restore. But, what happens when we are deprived of sleep on a regular basis? There are many factors that can contribute to sleep disruption, but one in particular that is raising a lot of attention, obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where muscles and tissue in the airway relax and block airflow, which results in drops in oxygen and frequent brain awakenings.   Imagine how you would respond to a stranger standing over your bed when you woke up…this is what people with apnea experience while they are asleep. Obstructive sleep apnea stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal cortical system, which activates the fight or flight response, sometime hundreds of times per night. But, research is now revealing that the stress and chemical changes that occur with obstructive sleep apnea are correlated to insulin resistance and type II diabetes; as well as other metabolic dysfunctions.

Healthy levels of stress drive us to do better, make changes and adapt to new situations. However, chronic stress is known to deplete our immune systems and wreak havoc on our minds and our bodies. People suffering from untreated obstructive sleep apnea are undergoing night after night of chronic stress, and may not even realize it. When the body recognizes that it is not able to take a breath, it responds with a jolt of adrenaline and norepinephrine and a whole host of other hormones. Typically, this can cause an awakening to the brain, and frequent arousals from sleep are linked to intermittent releases of cortisol. Stress hormones, particularly cortisol, can have adverse effects on the body and prevent normal functioning.

Our bodies produce insulin to regulate our blood glucose levels, and we burn glucose as fuel when we need energy. Often, in individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, the elevated stress levels causes the body to produce more cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity. Thus, our bodies have to produce more insulin in order to regulate the blood glucose and translate the blood glucose into fuel so we have energy. Overtime, the body will forget how to utilize the insulin produced, otherwise known as insulin resistance, which inevitably leads to the development of type II diabetes.

More and more research has led to the conclusion that there is a high prevalence between OSA and type II diabetes. In fact, 86% of patients with type II diabetes also have obstructive sleep apnea. Further, there are new statistics out there that are finding that even people that ‘just’ snore have a 2 to 7 fold risk of developing type II diabetes over a ten year period.

Sleep is a biological necessity, that is greatly hindered by the disruption that obstructive sleep apnea causes! The risk of developing insulin resistance, type II diabetes or other metabolic dysfunctions is quite staggering. However, patients that suffer from untreated sleep apnea may not realize it and often don’t display common symptoms like difficulty sleeping or daytime sleepiness. The unique thing about sleep apnea, it does NOT discriminate! Obstructive sleep apnea can impair your sleep, your mood, your heart health, your digestive health, your immune system, your metabolic function, and your vision!


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