New research has found a link between sleep apnea and increased survival rates in the elderly. This contests the findings of numerous previous studies, which linked sleep apnea to increased rates of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

“These findings, when combined with new findings in scientific literature of the adaptive influences of intermittent hypoxia in various clinical models, strengthen our hypothesis that sleep apnea activates defense mechanisms among the elderly that provide them with survival advantage,” says Peretz Lavie, professor of medicine.

The study was conducted over 4.5 years, with researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology comparing mortality rates among elderly subjects diagnosed with sleep apnea to those of the elderly in the general population. Results were presented at the bi-annual European Sleep Research Society Congress in Glasgow, Scotland.

Patients in the study who had moderate sleep apnea had a mortality rate one third that of the general population. This decreased mortality rate did not hold true for those with severe sleep apnea. Participants with severe sleep apnea had mortality rates equal to those of the general population.