Conclusions of studies regarding the prevalence of sleep apnea vary but most agree it has been growing over the past couple of decades due to the rise in obesity and the aging population. Here are some credible estimates.
1.) According to the Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center,
…at least 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men are affected by sleep apnea. (Source: sleepapnea.org, 2015)
2.) A systematic review of twenty-four studies focused on the prevalence of obstructive sleep (OSA) apnea in adults in the general population determined …
…the overall population prevalence ranged from 9% to 38% and was higher in men. It increased with increasing age and, in some elderly groups, was as high as 90% in men and 78% in women. (Source: National Institutes of Health, 2017)
3.) According to the American Sleep Apnea Association,
… 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea are undiagnosed. ( Source: sleepapnea.org, undated)
4.) Finally, an international team of researchers using data from sleep studies conducted in 16 countries determined …
The global prevalence of OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) in adults is in the range of 1 billion people. (Source: Journals of the American Thoracic Society, 2018)
This last research project puts the global adult population at 5.03 billion. That means roughly 1 in 5 adults across the planet have some level of obstructive sleep apnea. The report goes on to say
This number represents a major public health burden and speaks to the need for new approaches to allow for the diagnosis and treatment of OSA. In addition, the prevalence of OSA is likely to continue to increase over time due to demographic and other factors. OSA is a highly prevalent condition which still requires considerable ongoing advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the burden of disease and benefits of treatment and prevention.
The above studies focused on obstructive sleep apnea because it is, by far, the most common of the three types of sleep apnea (obstructive, central, and complex/mixed). The American Sleep Apnea Association, for example, asserts that obstructive sleep apnea represents the great preponderance of the cases.
For perspective, the estimated prevalence of central sleep apnea in the general population is less than 1%. That’s according to Medscape.
As for complex sleep apnea (also called mixed sleep apnea), it’s difficult to find a generally accepted estimate of its prevalence. That’s because there are numerous potential causes and also because it tends to be transitory for some patients. According to a 2013 article published on the National Institutes of Health website, “Many studies investigated the prevalence and natural course of CompSAS (complex sleep apnea syndrome), and prevalence estimates vary from about 1% to as much as about 20%.”