Life Insurance With Sleep Apnea
If you have a hard time falling asleep every night, you’re not alone. Sleep disorders and deprivation affect millions of Americans every year, and it appears that the problem is only getting worse. While there are multiple reasons for lack of sleep, one of the most destructive is sleep apnea.
According to recent research by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), over 25 million Americans suffer from this condition, and the numbers are growing. Unfortunately, the impact of sleep apnea can affect more than just your health. It could also raise your life insurance premiums.
So, with that in mind, we want to take a closer look at getting life insurance with sleep apnea. Depending on your particular situation, you may still be able to get preferred rates from some insurers. However, the more you know, the better your chances.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Technically speaking, there are three different varieties of this condition. First, there is obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common. Second, there is central sleep apnea, and finally, complex sleep apnea. Let’s break down these conditions further.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
As the name implies, this version is caused by an obstruction in a person’s airway. Usually, the tongue can block the passage of oxygen, which leads to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. The person stops breathing for a few seconds, and the brain kicks the individual awake to resume airflow.
Central Sleep Apnea
This type of apnea is not as common, as it isn’t related to anything physical. Instead, the brain can sometimes fail to signal the body’s muscles to breathe. Again, after a few moments, the person jerks awake to resume breathing.
Complex Sleep Apnea
This version of the condition is a mixture of the other two. In some cases, the sleeper may have an obstruction that leads to muscle failure. Also, the position of the sleeper can affect how the apnea begins.
Regardless of the type of sleep apnea you have, the main issue is a lack of oxygen to the bloodstream. In severe cases, individuals may stop breathing multiple times per minute, which can be highly disruptive to his or her sleep regimen.
Another side effect or warning sign of this condition is excessively loud snoring. Because the obstruction is making it harder to breathe, the sleeper has to work more to get air through, which leads to more noise.
The Effects of Sleep Apnea
As you can imagine, a lack of oxygen to the blood and the brain can be disastrous if left untreated. Here are a few of the more severe side effects of sleep apnea.
- High Blood Pressure – the blood vessels have to work harder to stay oxygenated, which leads to higher pressure.
- Heart Disease or Failure – as the heart works overtime, it can cause extreme stress, particularly in severe or chronic apnea cases.
- Stroke – strokes occur when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. The likelihood of getting a stroke with sleep apnea rises the longer one goes untreated.
- Diabetes – one interesting side effect of obstructive sleep apnea is that it can alter the way your metabolism works. Broadly speaking, your glucose levels can spike as a result, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
- Fatigue – because sleep apnea sufferers can’t get into a deep sleep at night, they don’t feel rested when they wake up. Fatigue can lead to a variety of other issues, including mental fogginess or drowsiness. One potential side effect can be falling asleep at the wheel.
Overall, it’s evident that sleep apnea comes with many significant problems. Even worse, when the condition is untreated, these problems will only compound themselves, leading to poorer health and well-being. According to the same AASM study, up to 80 percent of moderate to severe OSA cases are untreated or undiagnosed.
On the positive side of things, once a sleep apnea sufferer gets treatment, the adverse side effects can usually go away. We’ll get into treatment options later on.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Considering that cases of sleep apnea are on the rise, it’s worth it to understand what triggers this condition in the first place. Here are some of the most common causes. Let’s dig into the most common cause a little more.
While correlation does not always equal causation, the upward trend of OSA patients does coincide with the obesity epidemic in the US. Unfortunately, gaining weight puts more pressure on the soft tissue of the mouth and throat, which can lead to obstructive sleep apnea.
For the most part, adults suffering from sleep apnea are likely overweight or obese. If that is not the case, the cause could be one of the following issues:
- Tumor or Growth in the Throat
- Birth Defects
- Swollen Tonsils or Adenoids
Getting Life Insurance With Sleep Apnea
Because this condition comes with so many dangerous side effects, it can be detrimental to your life insurance premiums. First of all, sleep apnea is considered a pre-existing condition. Some insurers may deny a policy based on that alone, which is why it’s beneficial to shop around for different insurance carriers.
Fortunately, because more and more research and data are coming out about sleep apnea and its effects, insurance companies are much more willing to look at each case individually to determine whether you can get a plan and your eligibility for preferred premiums.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to get life insurance with sleep apnea.
It may be tempting to avoid telling your insurance agent about your condition, but that is a huge mistake. If the insurance company believes that you were dishonest during the application process, your claim could be denied. In that case, your loved ones may not receive the death benefit, which could have significant consequences.
Participate in a Sleep Test
Typically, sleep apnea sufferers will know that they have the condition because they start to experience greater fatigue, or a loved one will notify them that they stop breathing during sleep. However, when it comes to life insurance, the more information you can provide, the better. As with any kind of insurance, underwriters want to assess the level of risk, and nothing is riskier than the unknown.
Thankfully, the easiest way to determine the severity of your apnea is to participate in a sleep study. If you have health insurance, this study may be fully covered by your plan. In most cases, the study can be performed at home, although some clinics may monitor you overnight in a controlled environment.
Once you know the details of your sleep apnea, next comes treatment. Fortunately, modern treatment methods are excellent at not only treating the condition but reversing the worst side effects.
Follow Your Sleep Apnea Treatment Plan
The best thing you can do when getting life insurance for sleep apnea is to talk to your doctor about the right treatment options for your situation. Here are the most common ways to alleviate or eliminate the worst apnea symptoms.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
For the most part, sleep apnea sufferers will receive a CPAP machine from their doctor. This machine works by forcing air through the soft tissue so that you don’t stop breathing while you sleep. CPAP machines are highly effective, with a nearly 100% success rate for OSA patients. New technology also means that these devices are more compact and less intrusive.
BiLevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP)
For patients that can struggle with a CPAP machine, there is an alternative. One of the most common complaints is that the pressure of a CPAP device is too high when exhaling, which can create difficulty in breathing.
A BiPAP machine, however, alternates the pressure level based on the user’s breathing habits. The level lowers when exhaling, and increases when inhaling. Usually, BiPAP machines are used for patients with weaker soft tissue, such as elderly individuals.
Additional Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
While a CPAP or BiPAP machines can virtually reverse your sleep apnea, there are other ways to help alleviate the condition. Whether your apnea is moderate or severe, following these steps can make you even more appealing to life insurance companies.
As we mentioned, one significant risk factor for this condition is obesity. Typically, adults who lose substantial weight will improve their sleep patterns, even without other treatment methods. For moderate OSA sufferers, weight loss could be as effective as a CPAP. That being said, it’s crucial to discuss this possibility with a physician to get a more accurate assessment.
Reduce Alcohol or Tobacco Use
Drinking can weaken your throat muscles, which makes it easier for them to become obstructed while you sleep. Heavy drinkers can help mitigate sleep apnea conditions by reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.
Smoking can also increase your risk of sleep apnea, as your lungs need more oxygen already. In these cases, the triggering threshold for your brain to wake you up is significantly lower than average. Overall, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, apnea or otherwise.
In severe cases, jaw or throat surgery may be necessary. While a CPAP machine can usually correct the condition, some issues like a narrow throat, a tumor, or other genetic factors can make it much more challenging to get treatment. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the potential risk factors of surgery as well.
For mild to moderate apnea sufferers, all it may take is a change of sleep habits to help correct the problem. Typically, sleeping on your back can trigger OSA, since your tongue can fall back into your throat much easier. Instead, sleeping on your stomach or your side can reduce or eliminate the condition.
Talking With Your Life Insurance Agent about Sleep Apnea
As we mentioned before, providing as much information to the insurance company is going to benefit you. Usually, agents will want to get the following details about your sleep apnea to come up with policies and premiums.
- Apnea/Hypopnea Index (AHI) – this number reflects both how often you stop breathing (apnea) and how often your breathing is shallow (hypopnea). The lower the rate, the better your condition. Ideally, your AHI with treatment will be around five.
- Oxygen Saturation – not getting enough oxygen to your blood is part of the reason your brain wakes you up at night. Optimal saturation levels are between 95 and 100 percent. If yours is lower than that, it could affect your rates.
- Treatment Plan and Follow-Ups – for the most part, if you’re treating your sleep apnea, you shouldn’t get hit with higher premiums. However, insurers also want to make sure that you’re following up with your doctor so that things are going smoothly.
One thing to keep in mind is that if your sleep apnea is considered mild or moderate, your AHI and oxygen saturation may not be at optimum levels. While they shouldn’t be high enough to warrant a denial of insurance, they could inflate your premiums. In those cases, it may be beneficial to talk to your doctor to see if there are ways to lower the numbers.
On the other hand, some insurers may have different thresholds for sleep apnea. For example, they may consider an AHI of 20 to be higher risk, while your doctor says that 15 is moderate to severe. Overall, you want to talk to your life insurance agent about different factors and possibilities so that you can be sure you get the right coverage.
Bottom Line: Getting Life Insurance With Sleep Apnea is Easy
At NextGen Life Insurance, we will help you compare rates and find the best coverage for you and your loved ones. As long as you are treating your apnea, you shouldn’t have any problems getting a preferred or preferred-plus policy. Call us today to find out more and see how we can help you get the life insurance you need.