Sleeping Yourself to Baldness – Apnea Sucks

Do you snore? If so your hair and health could be taking a hammering. Snoring is often a warning sign of a more sinister problem — sleep apnea. I’ve just finished reading “The Promise of Sleep”, in it William Dement reveals some disturbing facts.

What is Apnea?

During sleep the throat can collapse in on itself causing breathing to become shallow – this is what causes loud snoring sound. The harder the lungs try to suck in air the more the throat closes up, to the point where no air can enter at all. The body becomes oxygen starved and the brain has no choice but to jolt the sleeper awake but usually just for a moment. At that moment the throat quickly becomes rigid again and oxygen floods the lungs. The sleeper promptly falls back asleep and then like a recurring nightmare it starts all over again. Alarmingly this cycle can happen hundreds of times every hour with the victim being totally oblivious when they wake in morning.

There is no single cause of apnea, but the fatter you are the more likely you will suffer from it. Yet even thin people aren’t immune from it, generally the louder you snore the more likely it is you have apnea. It’s estimated that nearly one in every five people suffer from this condition.

I’ve suffered from a less common form of apnea. I broke my nose a while back which caused breathing difficulties at night. When lying down my nose would become blocked, as if someone had stuff a pair of socks up my nose. This meant I had to breathe through my mouth — apnea would kick in without mercy. Unluckily, or luckily depending how you look it, I had vivid memories of apnea when awaking in the morning. Several times during sleep my eyes would bolt open with my lungs screaming for air. I was miserable, it was affecting everything — my health, energy, sense of well being and my hair. But chances are if you have sleep apnea you don’t even know you’ve got it.

So What’s Apnea Got to Do With Hair Loss?

Besides the relentless pounding headaches, daytime fatigue and dry throat, my blood pressure began to soar. Not surprisingly the rate at which my hair was shedding mirrored this surge in blood pressure. Dement paints a more detailed picture:

The high blood pressure that damages blood vessels in the heart, kidneys, brain, and other organs can lead to a long, slow decline in their physical well-being … it is not difficult to imagine the damage to blood vessels that can build up under this hypertension pounding all night, every night, year after year.

Apnea batters blood capillaries that supply nutrients and oxygen to hair follicles. If scalp capillaries become damaged, then so do you chances of healthy hair growth. If you are living with apnea then your scalp isn’t only suffering indirect oxygen starvation through damaged capillaries but also directly – apnea breathlessness can last anywhere from a few seconds to over a minute, and remember this can happen hundreds of times through course of a nights sleep. The climb in blood pressure also has a knock on effect which can be equally as damaging to hair and health.

Hormonally Unbalanced

High blood pressure can trigger both mental and physical stress. At the very least stress is not conducive to optimal hair health, at it’s worst it can give you a proper kick in the scalp with full blown hair loss. Of the many ways stress can run riot is by increasing levels of a hormone called corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) (who makes these names up?). A recent study revealed:

CRH also modulates important functional hair growth parameters in vitro (hair shaft elongation, catagen induction, hair keratinocyte proliferation, melanin production).

FASEB J. 2005 Aug;19(10):1332-4. Epub 2005 Jun 9.

In English, elevated CRH levels stop the production of hair proteins, stop the production of the hair shaft and stop the hair growth phase.

By constantly interrupting you while you are snoozing, apnea leads to sleep deprivation. When you aren’t getting ample sleep, levels of the hormone melatonin plummet. Lack of melatonin messes with hair hormones which are directly related to hair loss. Studies on animals have shown a dramatic increase in hair growth when they were given extra melatonin, and a recent study showed:

Melatonin might influence hair growth in humans.

Br J Dermatol 2004 Feb;150(2):341-5 (ISSN: 0007-0963)

Apnea induced sleep deprivation also raises levels of another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol levels are finely balanced, even small amounts of stress can cause havoc. Prolonged high levels of cortisol in the body accelerates hair loss. Cortisol also influences other hormones not least thyroid stimulating hormone, progesterone, testosterone and even DHT. If any of these hormones are out of balance then hair growth can be hindered.

Stress itself can lead to other diseases and ailments such as leaky gut syndrome where essential nutrients vital for hair growth are depleted. And that’s not even mentioning diabetes, pancreatitis, liver damage, accelerated aging, cancer, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory states, or (…deep breath…)

exhaustion, sexual dysfunction, decrease in sex drive, unexplained weight changes, frequent urination, gallbladder or gut problems, hypoglycemia, snoring, incontinence, an elevated PSA, high cholesterol, bone loss, impaired thyroid function, loss of muscle or stamina, skin problems, more aches and pains in bones and joints, less initiative and mental aggression, and irritability.

Male Hormone Level Malfunction – Sleep Apnea & Pituitary Gland by Edward F. Group III, D.C., Ph.D, N.D.,CCN

You Can Ignore Apnea, But It Won’t Ignore You

I could write for the rest of the year and still not cover every aspect about the interplay of sleep apnea, stress, hormones and hair loss. (But keep your eye out for other articles about stress, specific hormones and hair loss in the coming weeks.) Suffice to say apnea can cause a whole lot more than hair loss, the small matter of premature death might be a concern to some. Dement tells disturbing story which perfectly illustrates the devastation severe apnea can cause…

Since young baby Adam was born, he had never been right. He could barely crawl, yet children of his age were beginning to walk and talk. He was “very underweight, tiny, sad and emaciated”. Even after months of testing, doctors were still non the wiser. By pure chance a friend who happened to be a sleep specialist visited the family and realised baby Adam was having breathing problems when sleeping…

A moment after falling asleep he would stop breathing and within a minute Adam’s oxygen starved brain would wake him up. After taking a few breaths he would fall asleep again and repeat the cycle.

Adam was finally diagnosed with apnea. Within weeks of surgery he was at last able to sleep properly, he was rapidly transformed both mentally and physically. Apnea is not something to be taken lightly — nearly 40,000 fatal heart attacks in the US every year are attributed to sleep apnea.

Save Your Hair, Save Your Health

After two lots of surgery to fix my broken nose apnea is now a distant memory. It’s literally been a breath of fresh air, my hair shedding rate and stress levels are back to normal. Had I not bothered to sort my apnea out I’m sure that my health and hair would have taken a hell of a beating.

If you are overweight then losing fat would be a big step forwards. Also try breathing through your nose when sleeping. In many cases these two steps may not enough – if you or your partner snores heavily then I urge you to seek out a knowledgeable sleep specialist. (Many general Doctors aren’t fully aware of the true extent of sleep apnea according to Dement.) They can advise you of simple, successful methods to relieve apnea. Not only will it help save your hair, you might just save your life.

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This article was written on March 29, 2006 was posted in these categories Hair Loss Causes .