SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.41 issue10The oral motor capacity and feeding performance of preterm newborns at the time of transition to oral feedingInfluence of chronotype and social zeitgebers on sleep/wake patterns author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand




Related links


Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research

Print version ISSN 0100-879XOn-line version ISSN 1414-431X

Braz J Med Biol Res vol.41 no.10 Ribeirão Preto Oct. 2008  Epub Sep 17, 2008 

Braz J Med Biol Res, October 2008, Volume 41(10) 908-913

Relationship between the quality of life and the severity of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome

C. Lopes2,3, A.M. Esteves1,2, L.R.A. Bittencourt1,2,3, S. Tufik1,2,3 and M.T. Mello1,2

1Departamento de Psicobiologia, 2Centro de Estudos em Psicobiologia e Exercício, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brasil
3Instituto do Sono, São Paulo, SP, Brasil

Patients and Methods
Correspondence and Footnotes


The effects of sleep disorders on the quality of life (QOL) have been documented in the literature. Excessive sleepiness and altered circadian rhythms may negatively affect ability to learn, employment, and interpersonal relations, and directly degrade QOL. The objective of the present study was to evaluate the impact of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome of varying severity on QOL. The study was conducted on 1892 patients aged 18 years or older referred by a physician to the Sleep Institute, São Paulo, with complaints related to apnea (snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hyperarousal, and fatigue). They were submitted to overnight polysomnography for the diagnosis of sleep disorders from August 2005 through April 2006. The patients completed the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and QOL SF-36 sleep questionnaires. They were classified as non-physically active and physically active and not-sleepy and sleepy and the results of polysomnography were analyzed on the basis of the apnea hypopnea index (AHI). The apneic subjects showed a reduction in QOL which was proportional to severity. There was a significant decrease in all domains (physical functioning, role physical problems, bodily pain, general health perceptions, vitality, social functioning, emotional problems, general mental health) for apneics with AHI >30, who generally were sleepy and did not participate in physical activities (P < 0.05). The present study provides evidence that the impact of sleep disorders on QOL in apneics is not limited to excessive daytime sleepiness and that physical activity can contribute to reducing the symptoms. Thus, exercise should be considered as an adjunct interventional strategy in the management of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

Key words: Physical activity; Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome; Quality of life; Sleepiness


The effects of sleep disorders on quality of life (QOL) have been documented in the literature. Excessive sleepiness and altered circadian rhythms may affect education, employment, and interpersonal relations, and directly degrade QOL, particularly in relation to functional capacity, health and sensation of well-being (1).

As one of the principal sleep disturbances listed by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD), obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is characterized by an increase in respiratory effort to breathe against relative or absolute airway obstruction with reduction or cessation of airflow for at least 10 s and identified by measuring an intrathoracic pressure that is more negative than during non-obstructed breathing. Diagnostic criteria for OSAS include symptoms of five or more (³5) obstructive breathing events (apneas, hypopneas, or respiratory effort-related arousals), or more than 15 obstructive breathing events without any symptoms documented by overnight monitoring (2).

Although sleep apnea is the most common cause of excessive sleepiness (3), it leads to significant impairments in QOL, cognitive performance, and social functioning (4). More reliable diagnostic parameters for the syndrome have only been available in the last twenty years as precision laboratory metrics have developed. Given the negative impact of OSAS on QOL, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (5) has recommended the Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form-36 (SF-36) as the most widely used instrument consistently showing low scores especially in the vitality/energy, role-emotional, mental health, and social functioning domains (6,7), which have shown improvement after continuous positive airway pressure treatment, thus suggesting their validity for assessing QOL in OSAS (7).

Although some studies have examined the relation between OSAS and QOL (8-10), there is a lack of documented research focusing on factors that can alter the severity of OSAS such as sleepiness and physical activity.

Physical activity provides several health benefits by decreasing the risk of mortality from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer (11-13). In this respect, the objective of the present study was to evaluate the relationship between QOL and severity of OSAS, considering sleepiness and physical activity as a predictor of better perception of QOL.

Patients and Methods

All experimental procedures were submitted to and approved by the Ethics Committee of the Federal University of São Paulo (process #1302/06). The procedures complied with the ethical standards set by the committee responsible for human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of the World Medical Association (1964, amended in 1975 and 1983). Written informed consent was obtained from all participants.

We prospectively assessed the QOL of primary care patients suspected of having sleep apnea who were referred by a physician and subsequently underwent overnight polysomnography for OSAS diagnosis.

We recruited all patients aged 18 years or older (N = 1892) attending the Sleep Institute at AFIP in Brazil for the diagnosis of sleep disorders from August 2005 through April 2006. The inclusion criteria were the presence of complaints related to apnea (snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hyperarousal, and fatigue). Exclusion criteria were previous treatment for OSAS, presence of acute illness or medications within the last 2 weeks.


Patients came to the Institute of Sleep for polysomnography at 9:00 pm and were asked to complete a Sleep Questionnaire (14), the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (15), and the QOL SF-36 Health Survey (16). All questionnaires were self-administered an hour prior to overnight polysomnography. After filling out the questionnaires, the patients were taken to their individual rooms, where polysomnography was set up for recording throughout the night.


Sleep recording followed Rechtschaffen and Kales (17) standards for polysomnography. All volunteers were recorded for at least 8 h. Variables were systematically monitored using a multichannel data acquisition system (Embla, Flaga, Iceland): electroencephalogram (C3/A2, C4/A1, O1/A2, O2/A1), electrooculogram (R-OC/A1 and L-OC/A2), chin and anterior tibialis electromyogram (electrodes in mentonian and submentonian regions), and electrocardiography (modified V2 connection). Two plethysmograph belts were used to monitor thoracic and abdominal movements. Nasal and oral airflow was measured with a nasal pressure transducer and with a thermistor. Arterial oxygen saturation was measured by pulse oximetry. Synchronized video monitoring was used to monitor abnormal sleep breathing or movements. Data recorded were total sleep time (per min), sleep efficiency (%), sleep latency (per min), latency of rapid eye movement (REM/min), sleep stages 1 and 2 (%), stages 3 and 4 (%) and REM (%) and apnea and hypopnea respiratory events index (AHI/h). Polysomnography records were scored manually using conventional Rechtschaffen and Kales criteria with 30-s epochs. Diagnostic criteria for OSAS included an AHI of 5 or more determined by overnight monitoring, and evidence of disturbed or non-refreshing sleep, daytime sleepiness, or other daytime symptoms (5). The task force suggested AHI cut-off points of 5 £ AHI < 15, 15 £ AHI < 30 and AHI ³30 to indicate mild, moderate, and severe levels of OSAS (2). These recommendations have been recognized to be an expert consensus statement based on a paucity of objective data, and are intended to stimulate further research to identify the optimal approach to quantifying sleep-related breathing disorders (5).

Evaluation of physical activity

We asked about the frequency of physical activity per week in the Sleep Questionnaire. Patients reporting activity performed twice a week or more were rated as being physically active.

Evaluation of sleepiness

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), which was used to investigate daytime sleepiness, provides a measure of propensity to sleep or doze during active and passive situations commonly encountered during the wake period. ESS scores <10 were considered to indicate normality and the patients reporting them were classified as not-sleepy, while scores ³10 were rated as clinically significant sleepiness and the patients reporting them were rated as sleepy (15,18).

Evaluation of QOL

The "Medical Outcomes Study SF-36" is a 36-item generic QOL measure that assesses eight domains: 1) physical functioning; 2) role limitations due to physical health problems; 3) body pain; 4) general health perception; 5) vitality; 6) social functioning; 7) role limitations due to emotional health problems, and 8) mental health. The SF-36 Health Survey was translated and validated for the Brazilian population, and evidence of its reliability has been substantial to date (16). All scores ranged from 0 to 100, with a higher score indicating better QOL. Domains were analyzed separately (19).

Statistical analysis

Each variable was tested for the normality of the distribution by the Kolmogorov-Smirnoff test. Differences between two groups of quantitative variables were tested by the two-sided unpaired Student t-test (mean ± SD). Differences among more than two groups were assessed by one-way ANOVA followed by the Tukey post-test (mean ± SD). The data for the dependent variable physical activity, hypertension and diabetes did not present normal distribution and were analyzed by non-parametric tests. Groups were compared to one another by Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric analysis of variance (median and interquartile range), followed by the multiple comparisons test (20). To analyze QOL we used two-way factorial ANOVA taking into consideration the factors severity of OSAS, sleepiness and physical activity. The level of significance was set at 5% for all analyses, which were performed with the help of the STATISTICA software (StatSoft, Inc., USA).


A total of 1892 patients volunteered for the study. After polysomnography, 508 patients presented no characteristic related to OSAS (AHI <5), while 1384 patients who presented sleep apnea-related symptoms (snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hyperarousal, and fatigue) with AHI ³5 were selected for the study. The demographic, clinical and sleep pattern characteristics of the OSAS population are shown in Table 1.

Patients were significantly older than controls. Body mass index (BMI) and ESS were significantly higher in patients than in controls, and BMI was significantly higher for the severe group than for the groups with no OSAS symptoms or with mild and moderate symptoms. The polysomnography data showed that patients with severe OSAS had disturbances of sleep architecture classified as stages III/IV (%) and of REM (%) stage.

All domains in the SF-36 were significantly lower in the severe apneic group than in any other group. However, it is interesting to note that patients with moderate apnea who perform physical activity had better QOL results than the not-sleepy and non-physically active groups. In all apneic groups, vitality was the domain most significantly affected in the not-sleepy non-physically active group and in the sleepy non-physically active group, showing that the practice of physical activity could be the factor determining a better vitality responsible for a better QOL. It is clear that the association of sleepiness and sedentarism plays an important role in reducing the QOL for OSAS patients. The characteristics of QOL are shown in Table 2.

Table 1. Anthropometric and sleep parameters of patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) classified according to the severity of the disease.

[View larger version of this table (187 K JPG file)]

Table 2. Effect of daytime sleepiness, physical activity and severity of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) on the quality of life.

[View larger version of this table (237 K JPG file)]


The study showed that excessive sleepiness and lack of physical activity affected the QOL of apneic patients, which was worse among sleepy non-physically active subjects and increasingly worse in the group with severe apnea. We provide evidence that the impact of OSAS on QOL is not limited to excessive daytime sleepiness and that physical activity can contribute to improve perception of QOL by OSAS patients.

There was a decrease in quality of sleep of severe apneics, along with a reduction in sleep efficiency, increased stages I (%) and II (%) and reduced stages III/IV (%) and REM (%) stage compared to the values of our control group. Changing sleep patterns have consequences for both physical and mental health (21). Moore et al. (22) recorded sleep variables for OSAS and showed that variables related to sleep fragmentation may have an important effect on several aspects of QOL, speculating that fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness may be partially associated with diminished QOL. Briones et al. (9) also investigated 129 adults with mild to moderate sleep apnea and concluded that sleepiness affects perception of QOL. Our results showed that not-sleepy patients whose ESS score was less than 10 presented better results in most SF-36 domains than the sleepy group.

In a large series reported by Baldwin et al. (23) regarding the association between sleep disordered breathing (SDB) and QOL, high levels of sleep apnea (AHI >30) were found to be associated with reductions in physical functioning, general health perception, vitality and social functioning. Our study agrees but we detected lower scores for all 8 domains of QOL among patients with severe apnea compared to the other groups, confirming that QOL is inversely proportional to OSAS severity.

Several studies have shown that intensive exercise may benefit QOL in both sick (24) and healthy populations (25). Our results show that apneics performing regular physical activity for at least 2 h/week or more scored higher on all eight QOL domains than non-physically active apneics.

Quan et al. (26) observed that 3 or more hours of moderately vigorous or vigorous physical activity also appeared to provide some protection against SDB, but these associations were weaker, with physical activity working only as an adjunctive treatment modality for SDB. An epidemiologic study (N = 1104) also found that number of hours of exercise per week was inversely associated with apnea-hypopnea severity (27). Our study extends these findings by showing that even less structured or less intensive activity is positively correlated with higher perception of QOL in apneic adults. The practice of physical exercise is essential for delaying some aspects of aging because of the reduction of risks for the onset of various chronic diseases (28).

Our study is limited by the descriptive nature of this investigation that did not allow us to determine whether other factors such as the presence of illness, medication use and daily living habits might have influenced the results. Another aspect is that the subjective self-report of daily physical activity may not have been adequate to find significant associations between physical activity and OSAS severity.

The present study differs from others in that only patients who had not yet received any treatment were included and all data were collected at the same service using the same methods, giving the possibility of a large sample and a high accuracy of the results. It was felt that the inclusion of consecutive patients at the time of OSAS diagnosis and before the beginning of any therapy would provide a better reflection of the true impact of the disease on patients' QOL.

Finally, OSAS represents a major public health problem and current available resources allow only a minority of affected patients to be assessed and treated. Further research is required to demonstrate if the use of more specific physical exercise considering time of day, intensity and type of exercise could act as an adjuvant treatment for OSAS and its symptoms, i.e., sleepiness, improving the perception of QOL by OSAS patients.


1. Jean-Louis G, Kripke DF, Ancoli-Israel S. Sleep and quality of well-being. Sleep 2000; 23: 1115-1121.         [ Links ]

2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. International classification of sleep disorders. Diagnostic and coding manual. 2nd edn. Westchester: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; 2005.         [ Links ]

3. Young T, Peppard PE, Gottlieb DJ. Epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea: a population health perspective. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2002; 165: 1217-1239.         [ Links ]

4. Engleman HM, Douglas NJ. Sleep. 4: Sleepiness, cognitive function, and quality of life in obstructive sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome. Thorax 2004; 59: 618-622.         [ Links ]

5. Sleep-related breathing disorders in adults: recommendations for syndrome definition and measurement techniques in clinical research. The Report of an American Academy of Sleep Medicine Task Force. Sleep 1999; 22: 667-689.         [ Links ]

6. Gall R, Isaac L, Kryger M. Quality of life in mild obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep 1993; 16: S59-S61.         [ Links ]

7. Jenkinson C, Stradling J, Petersen S. Comparison of three measures of quality of life outcome in the evaluation of continuous positive airways pressure therapy for sleep apnoea. J Sleep Res 1997; 6: 199-204.         [ Links ]

8. Ancoli-Israel S, Roth T. Characteristics of insomnia in the United States: results of the 1991 National Sleep Foundation Survey. I. Sleep 1999; 22 (Suppl 2): S347-S353.         [ Links ]

9. Briones B, Adams N, Strauss M, Rosenberg C, Whalen C, Carskadon M, et al. Relationship between sleepiness and general health status. Sleep 1996; 19: 583-588.         [ Links ]

10. Roth T, Ancoli-Israel S. Daytime consequences and correlates of insomnia in the United States: results of the 1991 National Sleep Foundation Survey. II. Sleep 1999; 22 (Suppl 2): S354-S358.         [ Links ]

11. Lim K, Taylor L. Factors associated with physical activity among older people - a population-based study. Prev Med 2005; 40: 33-40.         [ Links ]

12. Siscovick DS, Fried L, Mittelmark M, Rutan G, Bild D, O'Leary DH. Exercise intensity and subclinical cardiovascular disease in the elderly. The Cardiovascular Health Study. Am J Epidemiol 1997; 145: 977-986.         [ Links ]

13. DiPietro L. Physical activity in aging: changes in patterns and their relationship to health and function. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2001; 56 Spec No. 2: 13-22.         [ Links ]

14. Braz S, Neumann BRB, Tufik S. Evaluation of sleep disorders: Elaboration and validation of a questionnaire. ABP-APL 1987; 9: 9-14.         [ Links ]

15. Ware JE, Snow KK, Kosinski M, Gandek B. SF-36 Health survey - manual and interpretation guide. Boston: The Health Institute, New England Medical Center; 1993.         [ Links ]

16. Ciconelli RM, Ferraz MB, Santos W, Meinão I, Quaresma MR. Tradução para a língua portuguesa e validação do questionário genérico de avaliação de qualidade de vida SF-36 (Brasil SF-36). Rev Bras Reumatol 1999; 39: 143-150.         [ Links ]

17. Rechtschaffen A, Kales A. Manual of standardized terminology, techniques, and scoring system for sleep stages of human subjects. Los Angeles: Brain Information Service/Brain Research Institute, UCLA; 1968.         [ Links ]

18. Johns M, Hocking B. Daytime sleepiness and sleep habits of Australian workers. Sleep 1997; 20: 844-849.         [ Links ]

19. Da Mota FD, Ciconelli RM, Ferraz MB. Translation and cultural adaptation of quality of life questionnaires: an evaluation of methodology. J Rheumatol 2003; 30: 379-385.         [ Links ]

20. Siegel S, Castellan NJ. Nonparametric statistics for the behavioral sciences. 2nd edn. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1988.         [ Links ]

21. Rutenfranz J, Knauth P, Fischer F. Trabalho em turnos e noturnos. Tradução: Reinaldo Mestrinel. São Paulo: Hucitec; 1989.         [ Links ]

22. Moore P, Bardwell WA, Ancoli-Israel S, Dimsdale JE. Association between polysomnographic sleep measures and health-related quality of life in obstructive sleep apnea. J Sleep Res 2001; 10: 303-308.         [ Links ]

23. Baldwin CM, Griffith KA, Nieto FJ, O'Connor GT, Walsleben JA, Redline S. The association of sleep-disordered breathing and sleep symptoms with quality of life in the Sleep Heart Health Study. Sleep 2001; 24: 96-105.         [ Links ]

24. Rejeski WJ, Mihalko SL. Physical activity and quality of life in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2001; 56 Spec No. 2: 23-35.         [ Links ]

25. Stewart AL, Mills KM, Sepsis PG, King AC, McLellan BY, Roitz K, et al. Evaluation of CHAMPS, a physical activity promotion program for older adults. Ann Behav Med 1997; 19: 353-361.         [ Links ]

26. Quan SF, O'Connor GT, Quan JS, Redline S, Resnick HE, Shahar E, et al. Association of physical activity with sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep Breath 2007; 11: 149-157.         [ Links ]

27. Peppard PE, Young T. Exercise and sleep-disordered breathing: an association independent of body habitus. Sleep 2004; 27: 480-484.         [ Links ]

28. Whaley MH, Brubaker PH, Otto RM. ACSM's guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Philadelphia: Lea and Febiger; 2006.         [ Links ]

Correspondence and Footnotes

Address for correspondence: M.T. Mello, Departamento de Psicobiologia, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Rua Marselhesa, 535, 04020-060 São Paulo, SP, Brasil. E-mail:

Presented at the XI Congresso Brasileiro do Sono, Fortaleza, CE, Brazil, November 11-14, 2007. Research supported by FAPESP (CEPID #98/143033), the Psychopharmacological Research Support Foundation (AFIP), the Psychobiology and Exercise Research Center (CEPE), and FADA. Received November 5, 2007. Accepted August 19, 2008.

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License