More than 25 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing lapses during sleep, often many times a night. To deal with the problem, a whole new quasi-medical industry emerged almost overnight.
Well, at long last, the science is starting to catch up to the highly profitable new sleep industry. In fact, a new study out of Australia raises serious doubts about the long-term effectiveness of CPAP (continue positive airway pressure) machines used by sleep apnea patients to prevent stroke, heart attack and death. Of course, those who profit from the industry are probably none too pleased to read about the new findings. But I’ll tell you all about them in a moment.
Bad sleep is great for business
I always tell you about the importance of getting enough sleep. And fortunes have been made by selling products that promise better sleep, such as the right mattress and the perfect pillow. When you see that much money spent on advertising, rivaling direct-to-consumer big pharma, you know it’s a big business.
But remember, all the money spent on advertising does not equate to a quality product. (I would like to tell that pillow guy from Minnesota to put his pillow where the sun doesn’t shine, which would actually be Minnesota at this time of year!)
New businesses have also sprung up to deal with the more serious problem of sleep apnea. With this condition, a patient’s throat muscles relax, blocking the airway. This reaction causes the patient to wake, often many times a night. Conventional wisdom linked this condition to daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and Type II diabetes.
The problem gave rise to for-profit sleep centers, sleep machines, and sleep doctors staffing their daytime centers. (You won’t find anyone around at night). From what I have seen of this new generation of outpatient sleep doctors, they are looking for physician salaries with banker hours. I get the impression they aren’t so interested in the regular practice of medicine, but rather their next get-rich quick scheme.
Unlike what you might assume, outpatient sleep doctors don’t work the night shift. They just hand you some equipment, make you hook yourself up to monitors when you go to sleep at night, and then review the data later.
If they determine you have “sleep apnea,” they then send you home with a CPAP machine, which provides positive air flow through your airway to prevent breathing lapses while you sleep. The businesses lucratively lease out these machines, which pays for themselves over and over again. Like a license to print money.
Fighter jet masks more comfortable than CPAP machine masks
The typical CPAP equipment is a design abomination. The masks you wear have bulky designs that makes getting a “comfortable” night’s sleep nearly impossible. So — you may not stop breathing during your sleep. But only because you cannot sleep with that poorly designed contraption on your face.
In the U.S. Air Force, we wore oxygen masks when flying the F-4 Phantom Fighter jet. (My dad helped design the navigation equipment for these jets — but not the oxygen masks.) Those oxygen masks were more comfortable flying faster than the speed of sound, than are the CPAP masks that you’re supposed to wear to sleep!
With these modern sleep contraptions, you are somehow supposed to get a good night’s sleep with hard and soft plastic surfaces pressing into different parts of your face, with a big, rigid hose sprouting out of the middle of your face.
Of course, they say you must wear the CPAP machine to prevent the cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, said to accompany sleep apnea.
So — people try to put up with these uncomfortable contraptions. But do they really work?
First controlled trial on CPAP machine effectiveness
As I suggested earlier, until now, we had no real data on the effectiveness of these machines for preventing heart attack, stroke and death. Doctors only assumed they offered benefits, while they raked in their profits.
For the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Australian scientists followed 2,687 people ages 45 to 75 over a five-year period who had cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea.
The study showed using the CPAP machine did not prevent chest pains, heart attacks, strokes, hospitalizations, or deaths from any cause any better than sleeping without the machine.
The researchers did find some subjective benefits of using CPAP for reducing daytime sleepiness. But that outcome did not translate to objective health benefits over the five-year period of the study.
Why such an unexpected response from a machine that stops harmful breathing lapses?
Because the CPAP masks are so balky and bulky, most people who use them actually don’t wear them all night. In fact, most CPAP wearers remove the mask after about three hours. And the researchers theorize the very act of taking it off in the middle of the night may be part of the problem. They think that this disruption in sleep may cause blood pressure and adrenaline to surge, which is just as dangerous to the cardiovascular system as sleep apnea itself. Of course, this is all just speculation right now.
Clearly, we need more research on sleep apnea and a lot more work is needed on the design of these tortuous CPAP devices.
Good sleep is important
In a future Daily Dispatch, I’ll tell you about some natural approaches to improving sleep. In the meantime, I always recommend simply taking a one-hour nap in the afternoon if you are sleepy.
For heart health, eat a balanced diet including plenty of greens. Stay away from sugar and carbs. Control your blood pressure, blood sugar, chronic inflammation, and homocysteine levels. Get regular moderate exercise. And make sure to take a high-quality daily B vitamin complex.
I also have a new heart health dietary supplement in the works that will give all the science-based natural ingredients to support overall cardiovascular health in one dietary supplement. I will let you know in my Daily Dispatch as soon as it becomes available.
In the meantime, don’t expect CPAP machines to protect you from heart attacks or deaths, any more than statin drugs, especially as you get older.
“CPAP machines don’t prevent heart attacks, strokes in some sleep apnea sufferers,” Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) 8/28/2016