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How Sleep Apnoea Affects Your Brain

Posted by Blooms The Chemist on 20 Jul 2020

How Sleep Apnoea Affects Your Brain


There are various conditions that can come as a result of sleep apnoea and sleep disorders. The lack of oxygen that obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) causes can affect the entire body. While you may know about many of these impacts, as sleep apnoea causes oxygen deprivation, brain damage is one of the more significant risks that can occur.

This article outlines what you need to know about sleep apnoea and brain damage. This includes:

  • The process behind how brain damage can occur.
  • What symptoms to look out for.
  • How continuous positive airway pressures (CPAP) therapy can stop or even reverse brain damage caused by sleep apnoea.

How Sleep Apnoea Causes Brain Damage

The effects of snoring and waking up consistently throughout the night can be dangerous. As breathing is restricted and oxygen is prohibited from reaching the brain, this can cause a reduction in brain function and the damaging of brain cells.

A study investigating the damage caused by sleep apnoea showed that in particular, two significant brain chemicals were impacted. These were gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that promotes calmness, and Glutamate, which plays a key role in memory and learning. Patients with sleep apnoea saw a decrease in GABA, forcing the brain to reorganise its workings negatively. They also saw an increase in glutamate, causing damage to nerves and neurons.

As well as altering how the brain works, sleep apnoea can alter the physical shape of the brain. Grey matter is where the majority of information processing takes place in the brain, and white matter allows different messages to pass between grey matter. These brain injuries can occur as a result of obstructive sleep apnoea, altering the structure of the brain and its fibre pathways.

This effect on brain matter was confirmed in a recent neuroimaging study, demonstrating that the structure and integrity of multiple areas of the brain can be compromised. The effect of this also included reductions in alertness, mood and general brain function.

The Symptoms – What to Look Out For

There are a vast number of symptoms affecting the brain that can come as a result of obstructive sleep apnoea. This includes both short-term and long-term symptoms;

Short term symptoms can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Brain fog
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Emotional problems
  • Decreased cognitive function
  • Shortened attention span
  • Moodiness

Long term symptoms may include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Congestive heart disease
  • Drug resistant hypertension

In addition to these symptoms, research has also shown that patients with sleep apnoea have experienced trouble consolidating short term memories.

Not to mention, a study conducted by Rebecca Gelber demonstrated that subjects with lower oxygen levels throughout the night had an increased likelihood of brain damage. This was a result of mini strokes (that people with dementia may experience). In the same study, patients with the most negatively affected quality of sleep exhibited brain atrophy.

How CPAP Therapy Can Help

When it comes to patients with sleep apnoea, the use of CPAP therapy can be a significant factor in reducing the progression of brain damage.

In regard to the aforementioned neuroimaging study, tests were also carried out on the effects of CPAP therapy on the same patients. Whilst limited improvements were demonstrated after three months of CPAP machine use, twelve months of the same therapy showed nearly a full reversal of brain damage caused by sleep apnoea. The treatment also demonstrated notable improvements in mood, alertness, quality of life and other symptoms.

The various effects sleep apnoea can have on your brain are yet another reason why it is crucial to get tested for sleep apnoea. If you are experiencing symptoms of memory loss, brain fog or sleepiness, or otherwise think you may be affected by sleep apnoea, get in contact with us.


References

Compton, J. (2019). Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?. [online] Sleepresolutions.com. Available at: https://www.sleepresolutions.com/blog/does-sleep-...

Advanced Sleep Medicine Services, Inc. (2019). How Does Sleep Apnea Impact the Brain? . [online] Available at: https://www.sleepdr.com/the-sleep-blog/how-does-s...

DiSalvo, D. (2019). How Sleep Apnea Causes Biochemical Havoc in Your Brain . [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/neuronarr...

Sleepfoundation.org. (2019). Sleep Apnea and Progressive Brain Damage - National Sleep Foundation . [online] Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-ap...