Rationale: Sleep disorders may lead to stress-induced premature aging and telomere shortening.
Objectives: To determine whether obstructive sleep apnea syndrome causing intermittent hypoxemic episodes was associated with telomere shortening independently from the comorbidities associated with this syndrome.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study in 161prospectivelly enrolled, untreated, middle-aged men free of known comorbidities related or unrelated to sleep apnea. Each participant underwent full standard overnight polysomnography. Patients with apnea sleep syndrome were naive to treatment.
Measurements and main results: In univariate analysis, we found that telomere shortening was associated with older age, apnea-hypopnea index, oxygen desaturation index, waist circumference, and fat mass. After adjustment for age, only apnea-hypopnea index and oxygen desaturation index were significantly related to telomere shortening. The mean telomere length ratio was 0.70 ± 0.37 in the participants without sleep apnea, compared with 0.61 ± 0.22 and 0.53 ± 0.16 in those with mild to moderate and severe sleep apnea, respectively (P = 0.01). In multivariate analysis, we found that oxygen desaturation index was the only factor independently associated with telomere length. Arterial stiffness assessed by carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity correlated negatively with telomere length.
Conclusions: Intermittent hypoxemia due to obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is a major contributor to telomere shortening in middle-aged men. Oxidative stress may explain this finding.
Keywords: aging; arterial stiffness; obstructive apnea sleep syndrome; telomere length.