If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may also be changing the structure of your brain. The oxygen deprivation associated with cessation of breathing may have serious consequences for your memory, emotional regulation, and cognitive function.
The physical side effects of sleep apnea are well documented. It is linked to conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. But obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can take a heavy toll on your brain in several ways.
Sleep Apnea and Mammillary Bodies
When individuals suffer from sleep apnea, they often struggle to breathe, or even stop altogether for short periods throughout the night. Loud snoring or gasping is a hallmark of this condition. As the brain’s oxygen supply is cut off, measurable physical damage occurs, changing the brain’s normal functions.
Mammillary bodies – the structures responsible for memory storage – are particularly affected by this lack of oxygen. A UCLA study compared the mammillary bodies of sleep apnea sufferers with those of healthy individuals. They found that the troubled sleepers had nearly 20 percent smaller mammillary bodies than those who slept well.
Multiple studies have discovered a decrease in both gray and white matter in OSA-affected brains. This research also concluded that poor sleep quality caused by obstructive sleep apnea could be responsible for poor memory, emotional problems, and decreased cognitive function.
Neurotransmitters and OSA
There are two important chemicals that impact how the brain is working. Referred to as neurotransmitters, these chemicals are glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Studies done by the UCLA School of Nursing found substantial differences in the amounts of these two chemicals present in the brains of sleep apnea patients. In high doses, glutamate can actually cause damage to the brain. The good news is these effects have been shown to be reversible.
Good News for Sleep Apnea Patients
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine conducted a pair of studies that evaluated the effects of CPAP therapy. They found that after one year of treatment, the white matter in patients’ brains was almost completely restored, while gray matter substantially improved after three months. CPAP therapy may not be the solution for everyone. In fact, oral appliance therapy can also achieve the goal of opening the airways and delivering more oxygen to the body in some people who are having difficulty adjusting to CPAP.
If you or a loved one is suffering from brain-related symptoms of sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with your Glen Burnie Sleep Apnea dentist. Together, you can find a solution that will have you feeling like yourself again.
Chesapeake Sleep Center
7711 Quarterfield Road, Suite C-1
Glen Burnie, MD 21061