The Connections Between Smoking and Sleep Apnea

Challenges Smokers Face Everyday
Challenges Smokers Face Everyday

You might find it hard to acknowledge it all the time, but smoking affects many areas of your life. It takes up a lot of time going outside to smoke away from others, but it also affects how you breathe.

What some smokers may not realize is that their habit can even affect how they sleep. In this post, we are going to break down the findings of Krishna, Dixon-Williams, and Thornton on the relationship between smoking and sleep apnea.

First, let’s create the background for this topic:

When You Smoke You Create Risks You Never Had

Smokers increase their risk factors for many kinds of health problems. When you look at the all-cause mortality rate, you’re putting together the different killers that impact the population. Krishna et al. reviewed the literature and found that the all-cause mortality rate for smokers is almost three times that of non-smokers. What’s more, around the world there are 5 to 6 million deaths each year from smoking. However, the prevalence of smoking has decreased in recent years (from 43% to 18% among adults aged 19 and older). This means that now we have over 40 million American smokers at risk for dying at a younger age.

What is Sleep Apnea

Before we explore the connections between the two conditions, let’s just say that obstructive sleep apnea is linked to morbidity as is smoking. Untreated sleep apnea is the cause of many unnecessary auto accidents because of daytime sleepiness, including both drivers and their unintended victims. According to WebMD, sleep apnea causes a person to breathe shallowly or to stop breathing. The cause of sleep apnea is an obstruction in the upper airway, which means that your diaphragm and the muscles in your chest must work with more effort to suck air into your lungs. While you may not be aware of it, you may make loud gasps, snorts, or jerking motions before breathing is restored. This can also lead to reduced oxygen flow to your body’s organs and abnormal heartbeats. Left untreated, this condition means that you get years of poor oxygen flow to the body.

The Findings are Interesting

Krishna et al. found that there is a plausible link between smoking and OSA, but less than conclusive evidence. Smoking can cause sleep apnea to be worse including “through alterations in sleep architecture, upper airway neuromuscular function, arousal mechanisms, and upper airway inflammation.” What may also surprise you is that leaving sleep apnea untreated is linked to the smoking addiction.

Results of a Study at the University of Wisconsin

We liked the results of a University of Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, which is one of the biggest research projects to examine OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) in this country. They conducted health interviews and reviewed polysomnography for 811 participants. People who smoked currently had a greater odds of moderate or severe OSA when compared with nonsmokers. This continued after the researchers accounted for a patient’s sex, age, BMI, education, the daily amount of caffeinated beverages consumed, and weekly amount of alcoholic beverages consumed. What was not so shocking was that people who smoked at least two packs a day experienced the greatest risks for mild, moderate, and severe OSA.

The Takeaways

The point is that both smoking and sleep apnea are conditions that can lead to an early demise. As you reach middle age and beyond, you might wish that you had taken better care of your body, but it is always a good time to change your habits. You can get help for quitting smoking, and you can also pursue a sleep study to see if you have OSA, especially if you sleep poorly or exhibit instances of daytime sleepiness. Why? The first step of smoking cessation means that you stop putting many carcinogens into your body on a daily basis. Your lungs can improve over time. The second step (getting a nighttime study) will identify if your body receives the correct amount of oxygen intake during sleep. If smoking or sleep apnea (or both) are currently reducing your body’s oxygen levels during the night, then you need to make changes immediately, including seeking medical treatment.

Decide That Your Life Matters

This could seem like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo when you are young. Considering other factors linked to smoking (i.e. heart attack and stroke), and it is easy to come up with reasons to quit smoking besides sleep apnea. You don’t want to be 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or 90 carrying around an oxygen tank to breathe. Not only is an oxygen tank flammable, but using it limits many activities that you might want to enjoy. It’s not something that you want to deal with during a natural disaster or when spending time outdoors. We like the fact that quitting smoking is something to choose at any time and immediately begin reducing your exposure to carcinogens.

You might reduce smoking to one cigarette per day. Except for the time that you light up, at all the other times of the day your body breathes more clearly, and you feel good. Smoking causes those hair-like projections in your lungs called cilia to be inflamed. When you quit, they stop being inflamed, and they start working again. Then, we could argue, if you could reduce your habit to one cigarette per day, you could try zero cigarettes per day. You could really kick the habit!

We want you to think about the effects of smoking and to select a better future, which includes living longer and enjoying daily life.

Find out more about quitting smoking here.

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