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Likely causes of death while asleep

Why do people die in their sleep? Explore some of the most common causes and how sleep disorders like sleep apnea, snoring, and insomnia m...


Why do people die in their sleep? Explore some of the most common causes and how sleep disorders like sleep apnea, snoring, and insomnia may contribute to a higher risk of never waking up.

Cardiac Arrest

A death that is associated with the heart could be attributed to several medical conditions, including sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), myocardial infarction, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), and congestive heart failure (CHF). One common effect from all of these heart conditions is the failure of the heart to pump enough blood to the rest of the body, which can be fatal.

Respiratory Arrest

The lungs and the heart complement each other. As such, when one system fails, the other will most likely follow. One type of breathing that is indicative of impending death is called the Cheyne – Stokes respiration or periodic respiration. It is characterized by deep and fast breathing, followed with a gradual decrease before going for a temporary stop in breathing or apnea. The pattern repeats with each cycle lasting up to 2 minutes.

Respiratory failure can happen due to a chronic, degenerative disease, such as:

Chronic Bronchitis

Emphysema

Bronchiectasis

Pulmonary fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis

Lung cancer

Status asthmaticus

Pulmonary embolism

It is also possible for the lungs to fail because of some changes in the muscles or the nervous system, just like in the case of myasthenia gravis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Moreover, there are cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies less than one-year-old. The exact cause is unknown, but it is believed to be associated with defects in the portion of the infant’s brain that is responsible for breathing and arousal from sleep.

Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome

SUNDS or sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome was first recognized in 1915 in the Philippines. It was originally called bangungut (“to arise and moan;” the word for “nightmare”) in the Tagalog language. In Hawaii, they call it Dream Disease.

The exact cause of SUNDS is unclear, but it is associated with acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis, Brugada syndrome (a condition that causes disruption in the normal rhythm of the heart), and structural heart disease. Moreover, SUNDS is prevalent in young adult Southeast Asian men who are otherwise healthy.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Have you heard of people dying while sleeping inside their car with their AC on? That’s more likely due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that can be fatal if too much of it is breathed into the lungs. And unless you are using a CO detector, you can hardly notice its presence. It can be found in the fumes from running cars, gas ranges, furnaces, grills, stoves, water heater, fireplace, dryer and so on.

How does it kill? An increase in the levels of carbon monoxide can compromise the amount of oxygen that is flowing in your blood. When this happens, the blood that circulates in the body is carrying more of the toxic carbon monoxide, instead of oxygen. This ultimately leads to shock, or in the worst-case scenario, death.

What happens if you are awake? If there is an increased level of carbon monoxide inside your car or in your environment while you are awake, you may experience symptoms like dizziness, headache, or an upset stomach.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common of all the types of sleep apnea, and it is more likely the culprit why a person may die in their sleep. Apparently, OSA is a serious sleep disorder. It causes one’s breathing to stop and start repeatedly while sleeping.

This type of sleep apnea causes your throat muscles to intermittently relax and cause blockage in your airway during sleep. Hence, there’s the term “obstructive” in its name. Snoring is one noticeable sign of sleep apnea. It is estimated that about 22 million Americans struggle from sleep apnea, and 80% of these cases are undiagnosed.

How does OSA kill? When the airway is obstructed, it can suddenly compromise the level of oxygen that is running in the blood. If a person is already at risk for heart attack and stroke, then OSA can trigger a sudden cardiac event or brain attack that can cause one’s untimely demise while asleep.

It pays to know all of these things before it’s too late. People may say that once it is your time, you can’t do something about it. This statement is quite preposterous because doing preventive measures and knowing what to look out for can definitely help in staying away from impending and untimely death.

For instance, you can do something to address your snoring problem and there are treatments for sleep apnea that you can try. There are also medications, treatments, and surgeries that can address a respiratory or heart problem. And of course, one can stay at an affordable motel to sleep at instead of sleeping inside the car with the AC on.



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