Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes disruptions in breathing while sleeping. Typically someone with sleep apnea will stop breathing during sleep for a period of time, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. The person will then generally start breathing again, sometimes with a snorting sound. The disruptions often cause the sleeper to come out of a deep sleeping state into a light sleeping state, which can cause daytime drowsiness. People with the condition often are not aware until a family member or sleeping partner notify them of the problem.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are a few types of sleep apnea to watch out for.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Air passage is squeezed by an obstruction, such as swollen tonsils, a large tongue, or simply the closing of the soft tissue of the throat as the muscles relax.
- Can also be caused by excess weight or by anatomical proportions of the jaw.
Central Sleep Apnea
- The brain fails to signal to the muscles that control breathing
- Heart disease is a contributing factor
Complex Sleep Apnea
- A combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea
Sleep apnea may occur if you’re young or old, male or female. Even children can have sleep apnea. But certain factors put you at increased risk:
- Being overweight
- Neck circumference greater than 17 inches
- Naturally having a narrow airway
- Being male, or over age 65
- Family history
- Use of tranquilizers, sedatives or alcohol
- Prolonged sitting
- Heart disease
- Stroke or brain disorders
As of 2010, the following numbers show the significance of sleep apnea:
- 4-9% of middle aged men
- 2-4% of middle aged women
- 80-90% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed
Treatment and Prevention
Listed below are several ways to treat and prevent sleep apnea:
- Many people with sleep apnea are treated successfully with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. A CPAP is a device that is worn during sleep that maintains positive air flow by preventing collapse of the throat.
- Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, cessation of tobacco/alcohol use, and avoidance of caffeine or sedatives may help.
- Some patients undergo surgery to remove excess tissue from the soft palate to try to relieve symptoms.
- Sleeping on the side of the body rather than the back is helpful for some.
What Life Insurance Companies Look For
Life insurance companies are concerned that those with sleep apnea are taking the proper precautions to keep it under control. The life insurance company will be looking specifically at:
- Current, favorable sleep study to prove that treatment is working
- Consistent use of the C-PAP machine (if prescribed)
- Good response to treatment
- Consistent follow-ups with the doctor to be sure the C-PAP is working
- Associated medical diagnosis or risk factor, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, depression, stroke or obesity
- No sleep-related accidents while driving
The rating class offered by insurance companies on applicants with sleep apnea will depend on the severity of the disorder, results of sleep studies, symptoms, treatment, response and compliance with treatment, number of years since last symptoms, and the overall health and mortality risk of the applicant.
Untreated sleep apnea is often rated poorly or may even be declined for coverage, as are patients who have sleep apnea but do not comply with the doctor’s treatment recommendations. The insurance company will be looking for proof in the medical records that treatment advice is followed and is successful.
How to Prepare for Your Term Life Insurance Application
- Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations.
- Complete a post-treatment sleep study as proof that the treatment is working.
- Attend regular follow up visits with your doctor and request up to date treatment notes to verify your compliance and success with the treatment.
Real Examples from Real Customers
Juan applied for life insurance when he was 52 year old male
- Diagnosed at age 46
- He was diagnosed via a sleep study and was prescribed nightly use of a CPAP machine
- He uses the CPAP machine every night, and visits his doctor 2ce per year to follow up on his sleep apnea
- His medical records clearly document his continued use and successful treatment, and they also show a post-treatment sleep study that support this
- Outcome: Approved at a Preferred rating class
- Premium: $219 annually
Don applied for term life insurance when he was 45 years old.
- Diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea when he was 43 years old
- His doctor prescribed nightly use of a CPAP machine and smoking cessation
- He tried using the CPAP but didn’t like it so he discontinued use
- Has not returned to see a doctor regarding the sleep apnea
- The insurance company postponed his application until he has completed a current sleep study to prove that his sleep apnea is no longer a concern
- Outcome: Declined
With sleep apnea, compliance and proof of successful treatment is key. Almost all of the problems that arise trying to get approved for life insurance with sleep apnea are due to non-compliance or lack of follow up with the treating physician.
What This All Means to You
The good news about applying for term life insurance when you have sleep apnea is — yes, you can qualify for coverage! The bad news is the approval and rating class can be very unpredictable and subjective. However, if you follow the advice we’ve provided and, more importantly, discuss your situation with your life insurance agent or broker, you can have a positive outcome.
And remember, if you are not pleased with the offer you receive, you can always try with another company or put the policy in force and work on improving the rating class through better control and lab results.
Sources: American College of Physicians, Mayo Clinic