Sleep Apnoea and Life Insurance

Does sleep apnoea affect your chances of getting life insurance?

Having sleep apnoea won't stop you from taking out life or income protection insurance. However, insurers may take your condition into account during the underwriting process. This may result in you having a premium loading added to your cover to reflect the increased risk you pose to the insurer.

Receive a preliminary life insurance and income protection if you have sleep apnoea

How do life insurers assess the sleep apnoea?

These days, life insurers will routinely include questions in relation to sleep apnoea and upon full disclosure of this condition, you may be required to produce further medical underwriting depending on the severity of the condition. You may find that with many providers, the severity of your sleep apnoea condition will be determined along with the details of any medications or treatments you are taking and how successful they have been, which will make a difference to your eligibility and the amount you will pay for your cover.

In general, sleep apnoea conditions are categorised into three main levels of apnoea-hypopnea index (AHI). AHI is an index that is used to assess the severity of the disorder based on total number of intervals or pauses in your breathing every hour of sleep (Peters, 2011). This index will be used by insurers to determine whether your application is successful or not, which includes the following criteria:

  • Mild sleep apnoea. Mild sleep apnoea means you experience five to 15 breathing pauses per hour of sleep (Peters, 2011). Life insurance cover may be available with a premium loading to individuals with a mild sleep apnoea condition, if the treatments to manage this condition are well established. A minimum 30 day waiting period and premium loading may apply for income protection cover applicants with borderline sleep apnoea.
  • Moderate to severe sleep apnoea. Moderate sleep apnoea involves 15 to 30 episodes, with greater than 30 episodes per hour of sleep for severe sleep apnoea (Peters, 2011). Applicants with these levels of sleep apnoea may generally be declined for cover. However, with proper implementation of treatments to keep the condition under control, an insurer may consider to review your application.

In addition to the sleep apnoea condition, other risks factors that are present at the time of application, such as obesity, high blood pressure or smoking (that are often the case), may also influence your ratings and the amount of premiums you pay.

It is important to remember that these factors often vary between providers and will be assessed on a case-to-case basis.

Some of the Common Questions that may be Asked in a Sleep Apnoea Questionnaire
  • Date you were diagnosed with sleep apnoea
  • Type of sleep apnoea you have been diagnosed with – obtrusive, central or mix
  • The severity of your condition - has it been improving, fluctuating, or getting worse over time?
  • Have you done an overnight sleep study? If yes, provide a date, your oxygen saturation percentage and sleep apnoea index
  • Have you sought treatment for the condition? either directly or indirectly
  • Do you have a history of heart disease or mental illness?
  • How often do you drink alcohol?

Be sure you tell your insurer about your sleep apnoea

It is important to be completely honest about your sleep apnoea condition when applying for either life insurance or income protection cover, and that includes being upfront about the severity of the condition and any medication you are on. Full disclosure of your condition does not mean that you cannot get cover, but it helps insurance providers to be able to assess your application accurately, thus minimising any complications at the time of claim.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a chronic sleeping and breathing disorder, in which the sufferer’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts while asleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur up to 30 times or more per hour (NIH, 2013), blocking the airflow to the lungs, thus reducing the blood oxygen levels. Sleep apnoea sufferers often have poor quality of sleep, as more time has been allocated to light sleep than the deep and restorative sleep, which is required to be energetic, alert, and productive on the next day (Help Guide, 2013).

When untreated, sleep apnoea can be problematic. The snoring is not such a major concern, but individuals with sleep apnoea are at higher risk of suffering cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Due to poor sleeping patterns and daytime sleepiness, the chances of car crashes and work-related accidents occurring to sleep apnoea sufferers are increased by two to three times to that of the general population (NIH, 2013 and ACP, 2013), up . Recent studies have also shown that over half of those who suffer from sleep apnoea are said to be overweight.

Symptoms of sleep apnoea

Not everyone who snores will suffer from sleep apnoea, but there are specific symptoms that sleep apnoea sufferers often experience, such as:

  • Loud and chronic snoring
  • Choking, snorting or gasping while asleep
  • Pauses in breathing, often in long intervals
  • Chronic fatigue, tiredness, lethargy and sleepiness in the daytime, no matter how many hours you have slept and often, you can fall asleep at the drop of a hat at the dinner table, or while commuting
  • Persistent morning headaches
  • Waking up with a dry mouth, sore throat, or feeling out of breath
  • Irritability, mood swings, and depression
  • Poor concentration and forgetfulness
  • Restless sleep or insomnia
  • Frequent needs to urinate during the night
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Reduced sex drive

Different Types of Sleep apnoea

There three main types of sleep apnoea and they are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnoea. This type of sleep apnoea is the most common and it occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat relaxes and becomes floppy, hence blocks your airway when you are asleep and often causes you to snore loudly.
  • Central sleep apnoea. Central sleep apnoea is less common compared to the obstructive type as it involves the central nervous system. It occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control the breathing, thus sufferers with this type of sleep apnoea seldomly snore.
  • Complex sleep apnoea. Complex sleep apnoea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnoea.

What happens during a sleep apnoea episode?

During a sleep apnoea episode, the oxygen level in your blood drops when the airflow stops entering your lungs. The absence of breathing then sends an alert to your brain as a wake up call, enough to kick start your breathing. You may then resume to breath with a gasp, choking or snorting sound, and return to sleep straight away, unaware of these awakenings if you have obstructive sleep apnoea. You may be conscious of the occurrences of this event with central sleep apnoea.

Treatment Options for Sleep apnoea Sufferers

Around 9% of women and 25% of men in Australia have been diagnosed with significant obstructive sleep apnoea, with a high probability of increasing as the number of Australians with obesity continues to rise (Snore Australia, 2013). Other contributing factors include smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

As previously mentioned, sleep apnoea can be lethal if left untreated and can cause sudden death at night time. It is essential to seek treatment options to keep your condition under control and upon successful treatment, you may be eligible for a review on your life insurance premiums or application. These treatments include:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Lose weight, particularly if you are obese
  • Minimise your alcohol consumption
  • Reduce your nicotine intake or quit for good
  • Avoid any sedatives, such as sleeping pills
  • Minimise caffeine intake and heavy meals within two hour prior to sleep
  • Nasal sprays
  • Mouthguards
  • Nose or throat surgery
  • Anti-snoring pillows
  • Use a nasal Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, if you have moderate or severe case of sleep apnoea.

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Richard Laycock

Richard is the senior insurance writer at finder.com.au and is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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