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To sleep, perchance to dream": A famous quote from William Shakespeare. This luxury might not be destined for your sleeping partner if you spend the night snoring. If you are constantly tired, suffer from brain fog and are faced with complaints that you snore, then you could be suffering from two common sleep disordered breathing syndromes such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or Upper Airways Resistance Syndrome (UARS).

Numerous studies suggest that snoring is on a continuum of sleep-breathing disturbances of which all humans are susceptible. While not all snorers will have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, it's important to look for complications of snoring, as well as to prevent progression later on into true Sleep Apnea.

How do OSA and UARS damage the brain?

You’ve probably heard about the physical side effects of Sleep Apnea, like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, but OSA takes a huge toll on the brain as well.

The following are specific areas in the brain which are damaged from untreated OSA:

  • Multiple studies have discovered a decrease in both gray and white matter in the brains of subjects with OSA.
  • Recent studies have shown that OSA changes the levels of neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate in the brain.
  • Damage to the hippocampus due to OSA causes dysfunction of short and long-term memory and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is also one of the first areas to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.
  • OSA causes damage to the cerebellum which adjusts blood pressure control and motor coordination, including breathing. Damage to this area prevents the ability to coordinate vascular and motor activity.
  • It has also been shown, based on various high-tech MRI technologies, that certain critical areas of the brain that regulate breathing, blood pressure, pain, heart rhythm, mood, balance, motor coordination and memory are damaged when there are repeated episodes of apneas and low oxygen levels.
  • Researchers at UCLA found that mammillary body’s structures in the brain which are important in memory storage, were nearly 20% smaller in patients with OSA than in their untroubled counterparts. Mammary bodies are important for memory recall, as well as for memory for certain smells.
  • The hippocampus is found to be significantly smaller in people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This area of the brain processes short and long-term memory and spatial navigation.
  • Researchers have demonstrated damage to neurons caused by decreased oxygen levels to the brain, which also contributes to memory loss and other cognitive problems.

If OSA can damage critical areas of the brain that regulates breathing, balance, memory and the autonomic nervous system, the implications are enormous. Is it possible that untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea can damage breathing and reflex centres in the brain that can lead to heart failure? What proportion of Alzheimer’s disease is actually undiagnosed OSA? The possibilities are endless.

How does OSA and UARS cause memory loss?

  • These two conditions cause a range of daytime mental symptoms primarily due to the lack of restorative sleep, and the lack of oxygen to brain cells, which can occur multiple times an hour throughout the entire night! Symptoms of brain damage include shortened attention span, moodiness and especially reduced short-term recall or memory.
  • Research suggests that people with Sleep Apnea have trouble converting short-term memory into long term memory.
  • Consolidating memories, storing experiences so that they can be accessed later, is a vital link in the memory-creating process that occurs during sleep.
  • When slumber is impacted by these sleep disorders, people have trouble incorporating and categorising their experiences, which leads to impaired memory formation and forgetfulness.
  • Poor sleep quality and progressive brain damage induced by OSA and UARS could also be responsible for emotional problems and decreased cognitive functioning.

Can this brain damage be reversed?

The good news is that when OSA and UARS are effectively treated, this damage to the brain is reversible over time.

One study found that hippocampal damage can be partially reversed after a period of Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). The hippocampus is also one of the first areas to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.

There is mounting evidence that treating Sleep Apnea, such as with using CPAP therapy, may return patients' brain chemicals back to normal levels. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, researchers found that a year of CPAP treatment, the patients’ white matter was almost completely restored, while their grey matter saw substantial improvement after only three months.

This is in line with other studies that have confirmed that CPAP treatment, when used regularly, can almost completely alleviate the cognitive symptoms and effects of Sleep Apnea.

How is OSA diagnosed?

A Sleep Study is a monitoring study done while you sleep, to assess certain important parameters. At Sleep Renewal, we are excited to launch "Home Sleep Studies" which can be done in the comfort of your own bed. The Home Sleep Study System uses Bluetooth technology to create a wireless body area network to maximise patient comfort and to measure the necessary parameters while you sleep.

Sleep Study diagnosesSleep Study treatment

Data from the overnight study is then sent to a neurophysiologist who will manually score your sleep pattern. If you do have OSA or UARS, you will then be referred to our Sleep Renewal doctors who will manage the process further.

If you or a loved one snore, are suffering from memory loss and decreased cognitive function, don't hesitate to talk to a doctor at Health Renewal so that OSA or UARS, two common sleep breathing disorders, can be excluded.