Sleep Apnea Increasing Among Older, More Obese Populations


An older, generally heavier population is sleeping less because of apnea, say population health experts at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison.

Sleep apnea has increased to the point that one researcher calls it a fairly common condition. More men than women have it. In males age 30-49, it is estimated that during slumber, 10 percent stop breathing anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute.

That figure is 50 percent higher than two decades ago, says Paul Peppard, an assistant professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison. He says increasing obesity corresponds to a rise in obstructive apnea, where the upper airway closes or gets smaller because of fat tissue. Belly fat adds to the problem.

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“Weight – for example in the abdomen, the tummy region – can push up on the lungs and lower lung volume so that when air is cut off to the lungs there’s less in reserve. So extra weight can impact or cause sleep apnea in a number of different ways”

It’s not only pounds but years that contribute to sleep apnea – the condition becomes more common with age. The new study also shows apnea rates for older adults: They increased to 17 percent in men age 50-70. For women the same age, it was 9 percent.