What You Should Know About Sleep Apnea and Brain Health

You probably already know about the adverse physical effects of sleep apnea, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. However, that is not all. Obstructive sleep apnea can negatively impact brain health as much as the heart. Sleep deprivation can cause alterations in brain matter and neuron damage that could result in memory loss and other complications. This article focuses on the effects of sleep apnea on brain health.

How sleep apnea affects patients

Sleep apnea and memory loss

People with sleep apnea usually suffer different types of daytime mental symptoms, majorly due to the absence of restorative sleep caused by waking up intermittently throughout the night. The signs include short attention span, fatigue, moodiness and lower short-term recollection.

Studies show that sleep apnea patients have difficulty turning short-term memories to long-term ones. During sleep, the major memory-creation process involves saving experiences and merging memories to make them accessible later. When sleep is disrupted due to a disorder, people have issues recollecting stories and articulating their experiences, which causes forgetfulness and poor memory formation.

Sleep apnea affects the shape of the brain

The mental implications of sleep apnea are more complicated than the fatigue caused by drowsiness. When the patient suffers sleep apnea, breathing actually stops, cutting the supply of oxygen to the brain. This situation, coupled with chronic exhaustion, can cause significant physical brain damage.

When the researchers at UCLA compared mammillary bodies (part of the brain responsible for memory storage) of multiple adults dealing with sleep apnea with those of healthy people, they discovered that the mammillary bodies of those with troubled sleep were almost 20 percent smaller than people who have proper rest.

Additionally, multiple studies have shown reduced gray and white matter in the brains of patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. The conclusion is that poor sleep quality and progressive brain damage caused by sleep apnea could result in poor memory, lower cognitive functioning, emotional issues and high cardiovascular disruptions.

Sleep apnea alters the brain’s operations

A study conducted in 2016 by the UCLA School of Nursing aimed to determine the harm done to the brain’s insular cortex by sleep apnea. They considered levels of two vital brain chemicals or neurotransmitters: glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. They discovered significant differences in the two chemicals that affect the brain’s functions. There was an increase in glutamate and a drop in GABA, to show that there has been an alteration in the brain’s mode of operation.

Can the damages be corrected?

Treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy has been shown to help restore the normal level of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Studies are still ongoing regarding this. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a study was conducted to determine the effects of CPAP therapy on multiple patients who have suffered harm to their brain. After a year of CPAP treatment, the white matter in the patients was almost fully restored, while the gray matter had remarkably improved after only three months.

In conclusion

If you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, you should talk to your doctor for treatment. 

Request an appointment here: https://www.newcitynydentist.com or call New City Smile at (845) 765-7090 for an appointment in our New City office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Do I Have Sleep Apnea.

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