Did you ever consider that memory loss, depression, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) might all be connected?
Researchers have long known that memory and depression are linked, but now new research shows that people with obstructive sleep apnea have trouble remembering specific details about their lives, making them vulnerable to depression. With approximately 22 million people in the U.S. and 936 million worldwide suffering from sleep apnea, it is an issue that must be addressed.
Episodic Memory vs. Semantic Memory
For a better understanding of research, it is helpful to distinguish semantic memory from episodic memory. Throughout our lives, we acquire facts, meanings, and concepts about the world that make up our semantic memory. Among our semantic memories are names of states, objects, and different types of food. While semantic memory can be rooted in a personal context (such as a sibling’s name), it is consolidated in the mind as purely factual information. Episodic memory is our memory of events and experiences specific to our lives, also known as autobiographical memory. In episodic memory, the emotional charge and context usually remain.
For example, to distinguish between the two types of memory, a semantic memory could be the name of your first-grade teacher, whereas an episodic memory could be what it was like on the first day of first grade. There is an association between depression and lower semantic memory, which means that depressed patients are less able to remember specific details regarding events or experiences.
Diving Deeper into Research
Keeping in mind the literature supporting the link between depression and low semantic memory, researchers compared an assessment of adults with OSA to an assessment of healthy adults. They asked participants to recall certain autobiographical events from their childhood, early adulthood, and recent lives. Overgeneral memories were significantly more prevalent among those with OSA, 52.3% versus 18.9% among the control group. Even though their episodic memory was intact, they struggled to remember the specifics. The researchers noted that this was likely due to interrupted sleep patterns since research has shown that good sleep is necessary to consolidate memory. Although the exact correlation between sleep apnea, memory loss, and depression remains unclear, this study shared by our sleep apnea dentist in 21061 highlights the importance of further research to determine if treatment can make up for lost memories. The good news is that sleep apnea treatment improves some of the cognitive consequences of the disorder.
All of us need to evaluate our emotional well-being regularly, but it’s particularly important for those with (treated or untreated) sleep apnea. According to a 2014 study, 46% of people with OSA have depressive symptoms. The following are some of the most common signs of depression:
- A persistent feeling of sadness
- Feeling fatigued
- Concentration and memory problems
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Easily irritated
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- A constant feeling of anxiety
- Thoughts or attempts at suicide
In combination with loud, persistent snoring, constant fatigue, and waking up gasping for air, depressive symptoms may point to obstructive sleep apnea, which can compromise your health overall.
The good news is that sleep apnea can be effectively treated. An appropriate diagnosis can be made by a specialist if you think you may have sleep apnea. If you are diagnosed, you will most likely be offered a CPAP or an oral appliance. While CPAP is the gold standard in sleep apnea treatment, it is not regarded as the most effective treatment due to low adherence among patients.
Please contact our sleep apnea office in Glen Burnie, MD today to schedule a consultation. Getting to the bottom of your sleep problems is the first step to figuring out the best treatment option for you.