September 18, 2008, Updated December 31, 2014

Moderate sleep apnea can prolong life according to Technion professor Peretz Lavie, who led the four-and-a-half-year study.Moderate sleep apnea may actually prolong your life according to surprising new findings by a team of Israeli researchers.

The condition, a common sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, has often been linked to increased rates of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure, but researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa found that it may contribute to higher survival rates in the elderly.

The study was conducted over four and a half years. Researchers led by Prof. Peretz Lavie of the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine, compared mortality rates among 611 elderly subjects diagnosed with light, moderate and severe sleep apnea to those of the elderly in the general population. Results were divided by age, sex, and ethnic origin.

The researchers found that subjects suffering from moderate sleep apnea had a mortality rate one-third that of the general population. While mortality rates for the elderly with no sleep apnea, light sleep apnea and severe sleep apnea were on par with those of the general populace.

“These findings, when combined with new findings in scientific literature of the adaptive influences of intermittent hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in various clinical models, strengthens our hypothesis that sleep apnea activates defense mechanisms among the elderly that provide them with survival advantage,” said Lavie.

The findings were presented recently at the bi-annual Conference of the European Sleep Research Society in Glasgow, Scotland.

Although sleep apnea is more prevalent among the elderly, particularly men, than among the young and middle-aged, the medical implications among the elderly are still not fully understood.

Sleep apnea affects 10 percent of men and five percent of women, and has been found to constitute a significant risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The findings from many studies, including some conducted at the Technion, show patients with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for mortality, particularly if they are overweight or suffer obstructive sleep apnea.

The research was conducted in the Lloyd Rigler Laboratory for Sleep Apnea Research at the Technion Faculty of Medicine.

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