Welcome to our latest blog article about sleep apnea and its effects on a life insurance application.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a medical disorder whereby breathing either stops or becomes very shallow while sleeping. These breathing pauses can be a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes in duration, and can occur 30 times or more in one hour.’

Sleep apnea occurrences often cause the sleeping person to go from deep, restful sleep to light sleep. As a result people who suffer from sleep apnea usually wake up the next day feeling tired and lethargic.

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction of the airways and is common in overweight people or people with enlarged tonsils.

Central sleep apnea is not as common as the obstructive type. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send the electrochemical signals necessary for breathing to the breathing muscles.

It is interesting to note that medical professionals believe that most cases of sleep apnea go undetected and thereby untreated. The person suffering from sleep apnea usually isn’t aware that their breathing stops or slows down since they are asleep, and if they do wake up for lack of oxygen it is for an amount of time that is so short that most won’t remember it. It’s possible that the person’s partner may notice this, but the chances are good that their partner is also asleep.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Interrupted sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty paying attention to details during the daytime
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty swallowing (central sleep apnea only)
  • Feeling of overall weakness (central sleep apnea only)
  • Changes to one’s voice  (central sleep apnea only)

Dangers of Sleep Apnea

If left untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of:

  • High blood pressure levels
  • Heart attack
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats)
  • Obesity
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

If you display the sleep apnea symptoms mentioned above, or if your partner has noticed interruption in your breathing patterns while sleeping then please consult a doctor as soon as possible!

Sleep Apnea Classification, Sleep Studies and Life Insurance

Life insurance companies usually classify sleep apnea by the type of symptoms that occur. Symptoms fall into mild, moderate and severe categories.

In order to get life insurance coverage the applicant must also undergo a “sleep study”. As the name implies, a sleep study examines the patient while they are sleeping.

Level 3 sleep studies are done in the home using portable equipment, while level 1 studies are done in a supervised setting. Level 1 studies are more thorough than Level 3 studies.

Sleep studies MAY be covered by your provincial healthcare plan, contact your provincial government for details.

Factors That Affect Underwriting

(Note: “underwriting” refers to the insurance company’s medical investigation of the insured’s health and life style. This underwriting process determines eligibility and premium rates).

The most important factors that underwriters look at when underwriting a person that has sleep apnea are:

  • Age of the applicant.
  • Type of sleep apnea (obstructive, central, or both).
  • Severity of symptoms.
  • Treatment (CPAP*, surgery, etc.).
  • Compliance with treatment.
  • Date that the last sleep study was conducted.
  • Current weight and height of the applicant (obesity has been definitively tied to obstructive sleep apnea).
  • Other medical conditions such as hypertension, arrhythmia, PVD (peripheral vascular disease), etc.
  • History of smoking.

If you have sleep apnea please consider losing weight and quitting smoking if applicable. Sleep apnea is a dangerous medical condition that is exacerbated by smoking and excess weight!

* Moderate and severe sleep apnea is often treated by a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

How to Speed Up an Application

People who have sleep apnea can speed up the processing of their life insurance application by having the following at their fingertips:

  • All sleep study results.
  • Records of all treatments.
  • Details about any mitigating factors such as life style changes (e.g. quit smoking, lost weight, etc.).

Likely Underwriting Decisions

The following are the most likely underwriting decisions for applicants that have sleep apnea:

  • Mild symptoms and no complications**: coverage at standard premium rates.
  • Moderate symptoms and no complications: coverage with premiums at 150% to 200% of standard rates.
  • Severe symptoms and no complications: coverage with premiums at 200% of standard rate, or outright decline of coverage.
  • Moderate to severe symptoms with complications: declined coverage is most likely scenario.

** A complication could be another medical condition that may be related and increases the risk to the insured person.


We hope you found this article about sleep apnea and life insurance helpful.

If you have any questions please contact us toll-free at 1-866-369-4474. As licensed Canadian insurance brokers we are here to help.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea but are not sure please consult a physician. Sleep apnea is no joke!


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