Obtaining Life Insurance When You Have Sleep Apnea

At one point or another, we’ve all been victims of those mid-day swoons in our energy levels.  The kind where you think to yourself, “if I can just grab a 20 minute nap, I’ll be fine.”  For many people, it comes and it goes.  But for people who suffer from sleep apnea, that groggy feeling can be an unwelcome companion more often than not.

As doctors learn more and more about sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, this has led to more diagnosed cases.  However, it has also led to more effective treatments, combining the use of medications, CPAP machines, surgery and lifestyle modifications. And while much is still unknown about sleep apnea and some of the related health challenges it presents, the good news is that it can be controlled.  And when it’s controlled, that means life insurance providers can and do offer coverage for apnea sufferers.

Understanding Sleep Apnea and Its Effects on the Body

It is estimated that more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.  While it’s more common in men over age 40, it can affect both sexes and at any age.  It also tends to run in families.

Once thought of as an annoying snoring problem, in the past 20 years, sleep apnea has become correctly diagnosed as a health-related problem that can have potentially devastating impact on a person over time.

Sleep apnea occurs when oxygen levels in a person’s bloodstream drop—essentially this is because you stop breathing.  These interruptions can be caused a couple of different ways:

Obstructive sleep apnea – This is the most common form of apnea and takes place when something partially or completely blocks your airway, preventing you from drawing a breath that can deliver oxygen to your body.  When you are asleep, this may take place because the muscles in your throat or your tongue relax and fall over your airway.  In an attempt to clear your airway, your diaphragm and chest muscles pull harder to clear the airway, putting stress on your body and causing a snore, or a gasp, as you begin breathing again.  This can happen up to several hundred times a night in severe sleep apnea sufferers.  While you may not wake up during these episodes, if you share a bed, chances are your partner will find it very uncomfortable and loud.  Due to all of these interruptions, when you wake up, you won’t feel refreshed.  Chances are you’ll feel groggy all day long.  A few other signs you are suffering from apnea will include:

  • Headaches when you first wake up
  • Daytime grogginess or fatigue
  • A dry and sore mouth when you first wake up
  • Daytime irritability, a lack of concentration, depression and forgetfulness
  • Suddenly waking up and feeling like you are choking or gasping for air
  • Extreme restlessness throughout the night

Central sleep apnea – Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, which is connected to physical issues, central sleep apnea is a disorder that takes place because of the way a person’s brain functions.  A malfunction in the brain tells your muscles to breathe, causing you to gasp and choke for air while you’re asleep.  Central sleep apnea is generally associated with other serious illnesses, especially those that affect the lower brainstem.  It is sometimes connected to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Damage to the lower brainstem may take place because of a stroke, kidney failure, congestive heart failure or hypothyroid disease.  Symptoms for central sleep apnea are generally the same as they are for obstructive sleep apnea.

Drinking alcohol can also exacerbate the problem.  When you have alcohol, it actually relaxes the muscles in the back of your throat and makes it easier for your airway to become blocked.  Sleeping pills are another option that have the same effect.

The best solution for treating apnea is by using a CPAP.  CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.”  It is a small machine used when a person goes to sleep at night that forces air into a person’s airway through a mask so that they can breathe normally as they sleep.

Doctors will also attempt to have apnea patients lose weight to lessen the impacts of the condition.  Less tissue in the throat region can lead to less likelihood that an obstruction will occur.

Sometimes, a person will be fitted with a custom mouthpiece to keep an airway open.  Other times, a nasal spray or nasal strips might be prescribed to keep an airway open.

Sleep Apnea and Insurance Policies

Because sleep apnea can be tied to so many serious underlying health issues, the type of policy a person qualifies for will be determined by how serious their particular case of sleep apnea is.

Life insurance providers will want to know all the details of your condition:

How long have you been diagnosed with sleep apnea?  The length of time you have had sleep apnea can allow a life insurance provider a timeline to track how your health has progressed.  If you have had the condition for several years, but show no other health problems, it may be because your apnea is a mild case, or you have successfully figured out a way to manage your condition.

What kind of treatment are you currently getting?  Are you being seen on a regular basis by a doctor?  What has the doctor prescribed as a treatment plan for you?  If you are fairly new in being diagnosed, you may still be struggling to get comfortable with a CPAP machine, or some medications that can help you stay alert during the day, may or may not be producing the positive desired results for you.

Have you undergone a sleep study within the past one to two years?  In a sleep test, you will stay overnight at a sleep center and be monitored as you sleep through the use of sensors that are attached at key points on your body.  These sensors check your oxygen levels, heart rate, how many interruptions you experience, and how severe they are in the course of a night.  The diagnostic information is critical to assessing how to best treat you and minimize the impacts of apnea on your body.

Have you undergone any surgical procedures to relieve apnea symptoms?  Sometimes, surgery can remove the blockage causing obstructive sleep apnea, lessening the impact of the condition or resolving it all together.

Overall, many factors will influence what kind of premiums you’ll pay and how much coverage you can obtain.  To put yourself in the best positive light, it’s best to be aggressive in treating sleep apnea, by losing weight, wearing a CPAP machine and complying with all of your doctor’s instructions, not only for the sake of obtaining a life insurance policy, but also for improving your health for years to come.