From Ariana Huffington's new book, The Sleep Revolution, to the 2013 Metro-North train derailment accident when an engineer with undiagnosed sleep apnea fell asleep during work, sleep has been getting a lot of press lately. And for good reason. Sleep is essential to our survival and growth. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are serious problems that must be addressed.
What's that noise? Snoring and Sleep Apnea
We all know that snoring isn't sexy, but did you also know that snoring and shallow breathing during sleep may be a sign of an actual sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? Obstructive sleep apnea is a common, potentially dangerous, sleep disorder characterized by the tongue falling backward on the the trachea thus blocking the airway for ten seconds or more. To compensate, the human body will then force a person to choke or gasp for air. Interestingly, however, this choking or gasping action rarely fully wakes people up. It disrupts their sleep, but many patients suffering from sleep apnea do not even know that they have it, because they are not consciously waking up from choking. These apnea episodes result in a disruption in the restorative aspect of sleep leading to patients feeling groggy and irritable without understanding why they are not getting a full night's rest. OSA leads not only to sleep deprivation, but it is also associated with cardiovascular disease, irritability, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
The Cancer Connection
A recent study, presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference of 2016, suggests a link between severely untreated sleep apnea and cutaneous melanoma. 412 patients, at 24 teaching hospitals part of the Spanish and Breathing Network, with a history of cutaneous malignant melanoma were evaluated through a sleep study. The results from the study not only demonstrated a potential link between melanoma and obstructive sleep apnea but revealed a direct relationship between the aggressiveness of melanoma with the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. In other words, patients with more aggressive melanomas were found to have more severe obstructive sleep apnea.
What does all of this mean?
Of course correlation does not indicate causation, and further research should be conducted. Nonetheless, this study highlights the importance of screening patients for obstructive sleep apnea as well as careful screening for melanoma. We do not yet understand the exact relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and melanoma, but as of now, we can at least state that a link may exist, and a thorough evaluation for both conditions is essential.