Can you die from Sleep Apnoea?

Can I die from Sleep Apnoea? | Sleep Apnoea

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Although extremely uncommon, it is possible to die from untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. Research has found that OSA increases a person’s risk of sudden death (1). The risk can be higher in older people, those with a critical illness, and people with severe OSA.

Untreated Sleep Apnoea significantly increases the risk of death because it can lead to cardiovascular conditions that can be fatal. One study found that people with severe Sleep Apnoea were up to three times more likely to die prematurely if untreated (2).

There is no doubt that Sleep Apnoea can severely affect your quality of life. Treatment is therefore essential not only to improve your day-to-day existence but to avoid the onset of more serious, life-threatening conditions.


Untreated Sleep Apnoea Life Expectancy

Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnoea can significantly reduce your life span. Those with untreated OSA are at more than three times the risk of premature death, reducing life expectancy by 17% (3). A study found that those with Sleep Apnoea who did not seek treatment had a five times greater chance of heart-related death (2).


Why can you die from Sleep Apnoea?


Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is when your airways become partially or fully blocked during sleep. This blockage causes breathing pauses (Apnoea events) that can happen more than 30 times per hour per night. Choking in your sleep, waking up gasping for air, and snoring are common symptoms of Sleep Apnoea.

The breathing pauses can last at least 10 seconds and cause the body’s oxygen levels to fall, carbon dioxide levels to rise, and blood pressure and heart rate spikes. As the body struggles to breathe, hormones like cortisol (the “stress hormone”) increase. Typically, it is not Sleep Apnoea alone that will kill you but the development of other health conditions when it is left untreated.


Health Conditions Caused by Sleep Apnoea

Up to 2.5 million people with Sleep Apnoea are unaware they have it, and the frequent pauses in breathing throughout the night can lead to other health risks (3). Treating OSA is crucial in preventing the development of long-term conditions, such as:

Research shows that it does not matter the age, gender or BMI of those with untreated breathing disorders (OSA) – the mortality risk remains high (4). Repeated cycles of accelerated heart rate and increased blood pressure occur due to the continuous closing of the airway.

This can contribute to plaque build-up in the arteries (called atherosclerosis), which strains the cardiovascular system and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. Heart disease includes atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and heart failure.

Sleep Apnoea can also cause type 2 diabetes as it alters glucose metabolism and promotes insulin resistance. The risk of developing pre-diabetes, known as metabolic syndrome (which includes abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and excess body fat), is also increased with OSA.

Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher sadly died from severe Sleep Apnoea and heart disease (5).


Cognitive and Mental Health Complications

Sleep Apnoea not only affects one’s physical health but also has significant implications for cognitive and mental well-being. The disruptions in normal sleep patterns caused by Sleep Apnoea can lead to a range of complications, including:


Dangers of Driving with Untreated Sleep Apnoea

Sleep Apnoea causes daytime fatigue due to the lack of sleep, increasing fatalities at the wheel. Data from the AA shows that 13% of UK drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel, and up to 25% of fatal accidents are caused by drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel (6).

The British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association reported around 300 people are killed yearly because a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel. 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles (7). It is estimated that there are 50,000 lorry drivers in the UK, and 15% of them have OSA (7).

If you are diagnosed with OSA, it is vital that the DVLA be informed.

Related article: Sleep Apnoea and the DVLA


Can Sleep Apnoea Be Cured?

No, Sleep Apnoea cannot be cured; however, it can be treated, and symptoms managed.


Treating Sleep Apnoea

The sooner OSA is treated, the less likely other health conditions will develop. Sleep Apnoea is almost always treatable, and combined with good sleep hygiene, you should return to getting quality sleep again.

The most effective treatment option is CPAP therapy, which consists of a CPAP machine providing pressurised air into the airway through a mask. However, you can make some lifestyle changes to minimise the symptoms. These include:

Take a Sleep Apnoea Test

If you think you or your partner may have Sleep Apnoea, our simple In-Home Sleep Test can confirm if OSA is present. This sleep study is an alternative to the NHS sleep clinic, where waiting times can be extensive.

Here’s why our customers recommend our In-Home Sleep Tests:

  • Convenient – Delivered to your doorstep the next working day.
  • No time off work You won’t need to make a hospital trip to get the device or to return it.
  • Affordable The cost of an In-Home Sleep Test is £195.
  • Comfortable -Testing is completed in the comfort of your own home.
  • Accurate results The test is analysed by NHS-trained sleep specialists, with accuracy comparable to PSG testing.
  • Fast results – Receive results in two working days after completing the test.
  • Confidential We never share results with your GP or the DVLA. We will only share the test results with you.

If you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact us.



  1. Gami, A.S. et al. (2013) ‘Obstructive sleep apnea and the risk of sudden cardiac death’, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 62(7), pp. 610–616. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2013.04.080.  
  2. Young, T. et al. (2008) “Sleep-disordered breathing and mortality: Eighteen-year follow-up of the wisconsin sleep cohort,” Sleep, 31(8). Available at:
  3. AASM (2008) Study shows that people with sleep apnea have high risk of death, American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers. AASM. Available at: (Accessed: October 31, 2022).
  4. Marshall, N., Wong, K. and Liu, P. (2008) “Sleep apnea as an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality: The Busselton Health Study,” Sleep, 31(8). Available at:
  5. Dr William Dement  (2020) The Carrie Fisher Story: Sleep Apnea Can Be Deadly. Available at: (Accessed: January 23, 2023).
  6. AA (2018) Don’t let tiredness creep up on you, AA. AA Charitable Trust. Available at: (Accessed: October 31, 2022).
  7. BSSAA (2009) British snoring & sleep apnoea association, British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association. BSSAA. Available at: (Accessed: October 31, 2022).
Staff Writer Danielle Myatt | Intus Healthcare

Author: Danielle Myatt

About author: Danielle joined the Intus Healthcare team in 2022 and since then has become passionate about providing informative blogs and content that help raise awareness of Sleep Apnoea and guide those who suspect they may have the condition. Danni is a degree educated content writer and works closely with our clinical team and customer services team to ensure her articles are well-researched and accurate.
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The WatchPAT Home Sleep Apnoea Test provides a quick, convenient and affordable way to diagnose Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. You will receive your results within two working days of completing the test. All home sleep test are independently analysed by in-house, experienced NHS-qualified sleep clinicians, and the equipment offers accuracy comparable to an overnight private sleep study conducted at a hospital or sleep clinic. To take the test, you must be 18 or older and have a BMI below 45.
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