Are you eligible for life insurance if you have sleep apnea?


Insurance companies consider health and lifestyle factors when looking at your life insurance application. Sometimes an applicant with health or sleep issues will have their policy rated – resulting in higher premiums – or have their coverage outright denied because of their condition. However, you can still get life insurance coverage if you have sleep apnea. A medical examination will go over questions about health conditions to determine your eligibility.

By Carly Griffin
Insurance Advisor, LLQP
8 min read

A person’s health is one of the most important factors insurance companies take into account when evaluating life insurance applications. Illnesses and pre-existing medical conditions like sleep apnea can influence your eligibility for life insurance and your premium rates.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts breathing while a person is sleeping. The condition affects over 6% of the Canadian population and is linked to a number of other serious health conditions. Studies show sleep apnea can shorten your lifespan by several years if untreated. Because of this, life insurance companies will want to know more information if you’ve been diagnosed or suspect you may have sleep apnea.

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Is sleep apnea considered a pre-existing condition for life insurance?

Yes, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea before applying for a life insurance policy, it is considered a pre-existing condition. In general, a pre-existing condition is any illness, injury, or physical or mental health condition that you are diagnosed with before applying for a life insurance policy.

For traditional life insurance applications, all pre-existing conditions must be declared. This is because your health record will influence the life insurance policies you are eligible for and the premium rates you are offered. As a medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated, sleep apnea is, therefore, a pre-existing condition.

How is sleep apnea defined by life insurance companies?

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that affects people while they sleep. The causes of sleep apnea vary. In general, the condition is characterized by recurring breathing obstructions that last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. These pauses in breathing cause drops in blood oxygen levels and result in disrupted sleep patterns and symptoms like snoring.

Other sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Waking up with a sore throat
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Loud Snoring
  • Difficulty staying asleep

Life insurance companies take into consideration what type of sleep apnea you have. There are three forms of sleep apnea, each of which can have both mild and serious symptoms.

Sleep Apnea Type Description Underwriting Outcomes
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Most common form of sleep apnea. It is caused by the relaxing of the throat muscles and tongue during sleep, which blocks airways and obstructs breathing.
  • Standard underwriting if sleep apnea is treated and case is mild/moderate.
  • Premium increase of 150% more than standard if it’s a severe case.
  • Possible decline if you don’t comply with treatment or severe case.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)  Rarer form of sleep apnea that is caused when breathing muscles do not receive the right brain signals during sleep. With this type you stop breathing when you sleep. Application is usually declined.
Mixed Sleep Apnea  Also known as complex sleep apnea syndrome, mixed sleep apnea is caused by a combination of OSA and CSA.
  • Standard underwriting if sleep apnea is treated and case is mild/moderate.
  • Premium increase of 150% more than standard if it’s a severe case.
  • Possible decline if you don’t comply with treatment or severe case.

Does sleep apnea disqualify you from life insurance?

A sleep apnea diagnosis does not automatically disqualify you from getting life insurance coverage. Sleep apnea can however influence the type of life insurance policy you qualify for and the cost of your premiums. For example, if you have obstructive sleep apnea that is mild and you are seeking treatment for it, you can still be approved. If you have severe sleep apnea or it is not treated, you can still be approved with higher premiums. If you have central sleep apnea, your application for standard life insurance policies will likely be declined.

During the underwriting process, life insurance companies take into account how serious your sleep apnea is and whether it is treated. For example, if you have sleep apnea that is managed using proven treatment methods—like Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines—and have no other risk factors, you may qualify for standard (and even preferred) life insurance premium rates.

Other sleep apnea treatments may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Use of tongue retaining devices
  • Use of mouthguards
  • Orofacial therapy

They also look at whether you have other risk factors, like additional medical history and smoking status. The combination of these factors determines your eligibility for traditional life insurance policies and the best rates.

It is important to note that sleep apnea is linked to other conditions and risk factors that can influence whether you qualify for life insurance. They include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease and heart failure
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression

Sleep deprivation caused by untreated sleep apnea can also have other side effects like tiredness, poor concentration, and loss of memory. These can increase the likelihood of other risk factors for life insurance, like work-related injuries and motor vehicle accidents. If you have sleep apnea, life insurance companies will evaluate all of these risks. In the end, your life insurance eligibility and premiums will reflect your specific circumstances.

If your life insurance application is denied based on your sleep apnea diagnosis, you still have options. One is applying for no medical life insurance. Additionally, you can seek treatment for your sleep apnea and reapply for a life insurance policy at a later date. Life insurance companies may be more inclined to approve coverage if you can show your symptoms are consistently well-managed.

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Does sleep apnea affect your life insurance rates?

Yes, having sleep apnea can have an effect on your life insurance rates.

Applying for life insurance with any kind of pre-existing condition may have an effect on the price of your monthly premiums. Because sleep apnea can shorten your lifespan (and potentially increase your chance of death by 17% if not treated) life insurance companies take on greater risk to insure your life.

But you still may be able to get standard or preferred rates with sleep apnea. Like many other illnesses, if you actively participate in your sleep apnea treatment plan (such as using a CPAP machine), you have no other side effects, and your condition remains stable, you may qualify for competitive life insurance rates.

Is sleep apnea considered a critical illness?

Sleep apnea is not considered a critical illness when you are applying for critical illness insurance. This means that life insurance companies will not pay out a lump-sum tax-free benefit if you have critical illness coverage and receive a sleep apnea diagnosis.

Sleep apnea is not considered a life-threatening health condition largely because it can be successfully treated and managed. That being said, sleep apnea is linked to some conditions covered by critical illness insurance, including heart disease and heart attacks. You can find more information on critical illness insurance here.

What to expect when applying for a policy with sleep apnea

When applying for life insurance with sleep apnea, prepare to share your diagnosis information for the life insurance application process. With traditional life insurance applications, you are asked to provide basic information about yourself (i.e. name, age, occupation) as well as answer a series of questions about your lifestyle (including hobbies, travel history, smoking status, and drug and alcohol habits).

You also have to disclose details about your physical and mental health in a medical questionnaire (and in some cases a physical medical examination). When you disclose a sleep apnea diagnosis in your life insurance application, underwriters will ask for more information from the doctor who provided your diagnosis. Your doctor will provide an Attending Physician Statement (APS) to the insurance company. This gives life insurance companies more information about your condition, including:

  • When you were diagnosed with sleep apnea
  • What type of sleep apnea you have
  • What is the severity of symptoms
  • What treatment you are following
  • What medications you are taking
  • What sleep studies you’ve undergone
  • And whether you have other conditions related to your sleep apnea

From there, life insurance underwriters will evaluate whether you qualify for life insurance coverage and what premium rates you are offered.

Still unsure if you qualify for life insurance with sleep apnea or another medical diagnosis? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert advisors. We can help you understand how your situation affects your life insurance application and can help you to find the most affordable life insurance coverage for your needs.

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The information above is intended for informational purposes only and is based on PolicyAdvisor’s own views, which are subject to change without notice. This content is not intended and should not be construed to constitute financial or legal advice. PolicyAdvisor accepts no responsibility for the outcome of people choosing to act on the information contained on this website. PolicyAdvisor makes every effort to include updated, accurate information. The above content may not include all terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, termination, and other provisions of the policies described, some of which may be material to the policy selection. Please refer to the actual policy documents for complete details. In case of any discrepancy, the language in the actual policy documents will prevail.  All rights reserved.

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  • You can still get life insurance if you have sleep apnea
  • Severity, frequency, and treatment of medical conditions like sleep apnea are rating considerations and your premiums may be affected
  • A medical exam or paramedical exam will have questions that determine your eligibility for coverage

By Carly Griffin
Insurance Advisor, LLQP
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