Excessive sitting can do a number on the body, including the heart, but so can untreated sleep apnea. Let’s compare prolonged sitting to sleep apnea and see which one comes out ahead – in terms of how dangerous it is to the body.

Excessive sitting, which has been defined as sitting for anywhere from four to seven or more hours a day, has gotten enormous coverage in the past several years. It’s a hell-raiser for your health.

Obstructive sleep apnea has gotten, as it has always gotten, very little attention in the media. However, untreated OSA has the potential to ravage one’s health.

Perhaps the reason that “the sitting disease” has gotten so much press is because, quite simply, everyone sits.

Though everyone sleeps, too, we’ve been doing that since time began. But excessive sitting is the product of high tech living, especially as more and more daily tasks are getting done at the click of a button.

Sleep apnea is estimated to affect 18 to 30 million Americans (many cases will never be diagnosed), while there are no figures for how many people suffer from the sitting disease.

Untreated Sleep Apnea vs. Sitting Disease

Both conditions damage the cardiovascular system, though precisely how the sitting disease does this is not clearly understood, especially since prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular problems.

This means that excessive sitting is harmful even to those who train hard in the gym.

Nearly every condition that excessive sitting can lead to is also a potential complication of untreated sleep apnea.

However, not all fall-outs of untreated sleep apnea are caused by sitting too much.

Conditions Caused by Untreated Sleep Apnea
but not the Sitting Disease

• Snoring
• Repeatedly awakening overnight for no reason
• Gasping for air during sleep or being awakened by a choking sensation
• Nocturia: getting up at least twice overnight to urinate
• Pauses in breathing, sometimes up to a minute
• Morning headaches
• Excessive daytime grogginess, exhaustion or fatigue
• Difficulties with concentration
• ADHD in children (yes, kids can have sleep apnea)
• Depression
• Insulin resistance
• Carbon dioxide buildup in the blood during sleep
• Blood oxygen levels during sleep dipping to as low as 60 percent (normal is at least 90)
• Heart arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation)
• Damage to inner walls of blood vessels
• Vehicular crashes due to falling asleep at the wheel

Conditions Caused by Excessive Sitting
but not Untreated Sleep Apnea

• Eventual mobility problems
• Chronic pain
• Low back pain
• Spinal stenosis
• Chronic venous insufficiency
• Increased risk of getting cancer
• Raised calcium score

Conditions Caused by BOTH
Untreated OSA and Sitting Too Much

• Heart failure
• Heart disease
• Heart attack
• Poor cholesterol profile
• High blood pressure
• Stroke
• Diabetes (type 2)
• Deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism
• Early death
• Increased risk of dying from cancer
• Increased risk of all-cause mortality
• Promotion of fat storage; difficulty losing weight

NOTE: The concept of causation needs to be carefully considered. All of the conditions above have been associated with either untreated OSA, excessive sitting or both.

As for a direct cause-and-effect, sometimes it’s impossible to determine in any given patient, whether their—for example—clogged arteries stem from sleep apnea, too much sitting or other factors such as smoking, obesity, junk food diet or lack of exercise.

However, some causations are obvious, such as snoring, daytime sleepiness,  waking up gasping for air and low back pain.

So which is worse, untreated sleep apnea
or the sitting disease?

Both seem to be running neck-in-neck with each other even though untreated OSA comes with more annoyances like nocturia, snoring and morning headaches.

The treatment for the sitting disease can be implemented immediately (e.g., treadmill desk, standing/pacing while watching TV).

The treatment for sleep apnea first requires a diagnosis made off a sleep study, which can be done at home or at a sleep lab. The gold standard treatment is the CPAP machine. sleep apnea vs. sitting disease