An estimated thirty million adults in the United States have sleep apnea, while most are undiagnosed. Many people know that untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia. But what many people don’t know is that sleep apnea can cause brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to the brain.

Sleep apnea can affect cognitive functions like reasoning, memory, reactions, and emotional control, and recent studies have shown that it can also change the shape of your brain. This article will discuss sleep apnea, how it is related to brain function, symptoms of brain damage caused by sleep apnea, and how you can reverse the damage caused by this common sleep disorder.

Sleep Apnea: Understanding this Common Sleep Disorder

Before we delve into how sleep apnea and brain damage are linked, let’s talk about sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep disorder characterized by constant breathing pauses during sleep. These pauses in breathing can occur hundreds of times a night, significantly impacting the quality of one’s sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when tissue in the throat relaxes and obstructs oxygen flow. OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea, and symptoms include snoring, daytime drowsiness, and gasping or choking while sleeping.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs because of a miscommunication between the brain and the muscles that control breathing. Symptoms of CSA include excessive daytime drowsiness, waking up frequently throughout the night, morning headaches, problems concentrating, and moodiness.

Sleep Apnea and the Brain

Did you know that sleep apnea can actually change your brain? Gray matter in the brain is responsible for processing information. A study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine showed that adults with sleep apnea had a lower concentration of gray matter.

This lower concentration of gray matter can explain why people with OSA often have trouble remembering things, concentrating, reacting to situations, and making decisions. They can also experience irritability, anxiety, depression, and increased stress.

Here are some other ways that sleep apnea can affect the brain.

  • Memory Loss — Sleep deprivation starves the brain of the rest it needs to function properly. Short-term memories are converted to long-term memories when the body is at rest. So, when people are continuously waking up through the night, the frequent sleep disruptions can lead to memory loss.
  • Reduced Reasoning Skills — The key to learning and remembering information is sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, you may experience problems concentrating and paying attention. It can also lead to having problems focusing, problem-solving, making decisions, and being creative.
  • Problems Regulating Mood — People with OSA are at a greater risk of anxiety, depression, and stress. This is likely because of the lower levels of GABA in people with sleep apnea. GABA is a chemical in the brain that regulates emotions and helps someone stay calm. Research has also found higher levels of glutamate, which increases stress in those with OSA.

Symptoms of Brain Damage Caused by Sleep Apnea

There is a wide range of symptoms that one may experience with brain damage caused by sleep apnea. These symptoms can affect many areas of the body. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Blurred vision
  • Problems with balance
  • Temporary loss of consciousness

Reversing Sleep Apnea-Induced Brain Damage

With all of this information, you may be wondering if sleep apnea-induced brain damage is permanent. The good news is that it can be reversed.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is the gold standard in sleep apnea treatments. During CPAP therapy, a CPAP machine pushes a steady, pressurized stream of air through a mask. This pressurized air helps open your airways, preventing them from collapsing and blocking airflow.

Consistent CPAP therapy has been shown to effectively restore brain structure in those with sleep apnea. It can also improve energy levels and mood, and help improve your overall quality of life.

Let DreamZz Sleep Center Help You Take Control of Your Health

Understanding the connection between sleep apnea and brain health shows just how important quality sleep is for your physical and cognitive well-being. Understanding and addressing sleep apnea allows you to take control of your overall health. 

At DreamZz Sleep Center, we want to help you get the sleep you need and deserve. The Dream Team can get you a consultation and sleep study within one to two weeks of your initial call, meaning you can start sleeping better in less than a month. Our fellowship-trained, Sleep Medicine board-certified physician will review your symptoms and devise a treatment plan to help you get back to sleep.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation.