If you’re like most people, you’re at least a little concerned about aging - especially when it comes to your biological age. After all, who wants their body to function as though it is older than it really is? Thankfully, there are many things we can do to reduce our biological age, or at least prevent it from exceeding our chronological (actual) age. From eating a healthy diet to exercising, not smoking and reducing stress when possible, we can look and feel our best at our actual age. But there is one thing about your health that you may not realize is aging you: treating your sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea strikes an estimated 22 million Americans each year. Many of those people don’t even know they have sleep apnea, while others are aware they have the condition but do nothing to stop it. In fact, as many as 70 percent of people who have been prescribed the popular CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy don’t regularly use their CPAP machine, rendering it useless.
Untreated sleep apnea has been associated with numerous medical problems, including depression, hypertension and even damage to both the gray and white matter of the brain. But now, new data from a study by Harvard Medical School has found that untreated sleep apnea can increase your biological age.
Dr. Kelley Mingus is a dentist who specializes in treating sleep apnea in his Bend, Oregon, clinic. He says that the findings of the Harvard University study may sound shocking, but to sleep apnea specialists, they aren’t surprising.
"When you have sleep apnea, in addition to not getting a good night’s sleep, you deprive your brain of oxygen and raise your blood pressure," says Mingus. "Both of these things take a toll on your entire body, which is why we see things like depression and high blood pressure in untreated apnea patients."
And those ailments are exactly what increases your biological age - that’s the bad news. According to Mingus, however, there is a silver lining.
"The study also found that with treatment for sleep apnea, you can actually reverse your biological age along with many of the ailments caused by the sleep apnea in the first place," he says.
Best of all, it can all be done without resorting to CPAP therapy, Mingus says.
"CPAP therapy is often very uncomfortable for people, so they don’t use it," he says. "At my practice we use sleep orthotics that position the jaw in such a way that it props the airway open and as a result eliminates the apnea. This is a lot more comfortable for most people, and very effective."
Mingus says if you have untreated sleep apnea or believe you may have sleep apnea, speak to your doctor or sleep apnea specialist about treatment options.