Context: Untreated sleep apnea is a prevalent but treatable condition of breathing pauses during sleep. With approximately 15% of the US population affected, understanding of the total health burden is necessary to guide policy, population initiatives, and clinical practice to reduce the prevalence of this condition.
Objective: To outline the history and need for a population approach to understanding sleep apnea and provide a review of the first longitudinal population study of this disorder.
Data source: The results of cross-sectional and longitudinal data from 1500 participants in the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort, initiated 2 decades ago, illustrate the population burden of sleep apnea.
Results: The prevalence of sleep apnea is increasing with trends of increased obesity. Prospective findings from 4- to 15-year follow-up data indicate untreated sleep apnea predicts increased blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, depression, and mortality.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of untreated sleep apnea and links to serious morbidity and mortality underscore the population burden of this condition and the need for greater clinical recognition and strategies to reduce prevalence.