How Your Cholesterol May Be Rising While You Sleep

Sleep apnea doesn’t just make you snore loudly, feel perpetually sleepy, or even gain weight. Now it looks as if the condition can also increase levels of bad cholesterol.

Young african woman sleeping in her bed at night, she is resting with eyes closed

If you or a loved one suffers from the sleep-disrupting snoring known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you know how it can leave you dangerously tired. Because OSA—the most common form of sleep apnea—prevents deep, restful sleep, sufferers walk around in a perpetual daze; they’re also at increased risk of weight gain. Experts estimate that 90 percent of sufferers don’t even know they have it—which is troubling considering that the severe form triples your risk of premature death. The news just gets worse: Now it looks as if OSA raises your levels of bad LDL cholesterol while dampening levels of good HDL cholesterol—and it does it while you sleep, according to a recent study published in Respirology.

Ludger Grote, MD, PhD, at the University of Gothenburg, worked with colleagues to investigate the association between OSA and high cholesterol. The team analyzed medical data for about 8,600 patients who were registered with the European Sleep Apnea Database—it includes data from 30 sleep centers in Europe and Israel. These patients had no existing diagnosis of high cholesterol, yet the scientists discovered that a high number of patients had high cholesterol levels without knowing it.

The team was careful to make allowances for other factors, such as abdominal obesity and body mass index. They found that the worse someone’s OSA was, the higher their bad cholesterol. Dr. Grote told MedPage Today, “Our data clearly suggest that sleep apnea may have a negative impact on lipid levels, which may in part explain the association between sleep apnea and increased risk for cardiovascular disease.” Try these natural ways to lower your cholesterol. 

It’s not yet known exactly why OSA contributes to high levels of cholesterol—Dr. Grote points to the need for further research on the link. Nonetheless, he stresses that physicians should be aware of the link when treating their patients for OSA. If you think you may have sleep apnea, see your doctor and get your cholesterol levels checked while you’re at it; just don’t ignore the problem. If you have mild OSA, you may be able to manage it.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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