How Sleep Breathing Disorders Affect the Brain

What is more personal than a person’s memories or thoughts? These parts of our brains represent our story and make up who we are. Anything that could jeopardize those reels of our lives is inherently dangerous to our identity and should be safeguarded against. Sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea can contribute to cognitive impairment and overall memory complications and therefore need early intervention to mitigate. Sleep breathing disorders can affect the brain via cognitive impairment and memory consolidation.

The Scope of the Problem

Some estimates suggest that over 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. According to these same reports, a majority of those same people are unaware and undiagnosed. Because sleep apnea often causes people to wake up (often in a frantic, emergency state due to the lack of oxygen) which prevents sleepers from reaching the restorative deep sleep cycles that maintain optimal brain function. This decrease or absence of restorative sleep is where the complications with cognitive performance and memory consolidation begin.

Sleep Breathing Disorders Affecting Cognition

Sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea affect memory because:

  • Memory consolidation (when short-term memories are etched into long-term memories) happens during REM sleep.  
  • Brain cells shrink during slow-wave sleep to allow Cerebral Spinal Fluid to flush out waste products. One such waste product flushed out during this process called beta-amyloid is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. 

Research into this connection also shows:

  • Patients suffering from sleep apnea were found to develop mild cognitive impairments ten years earlier in life than those without it. These cognitive impairments increase your risk of developing dementia. 
  • People undergoing treatment for sleep apnea, using a CPAP machine, added roughly ten years of cognitive function to their lives compared to those going untreated.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

A lack of deep restorative sleep from sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea reduces the brain’s ability to function to its potential. Treating sleep apnea mitigates this problem by ensuring the brain has access to the oxygen it needs and is able to perform its regular maintenance. Treatment options for sleep disorders like sleep apnea can include:

  • CPAP Machines
  • SomnoMed®
  • Oral Appliance Therapy

Palmetto Smiles of Beaufort Can Help Treat Sleep Apnea

Dr. Wallace has years of experience helping patients living with SBD. If you’re not getting restorative sleep or suffering from sleep apnea, you can get started with a better night’s sleep by calling Dr. Wallace today at (843) 410-0345 to schedule an appointment.

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