Apnea & Grey Matter Loss

Remember the last time you forgot something? Did you forget about the last time this happened? Chances are you were probably sleep deprived. Patients with sleep apnea may blame their daytime difficulties on simple sleepiness, but new research suggests that their brains may be to blame. Specifically, their cognitive challenges may be caused by structural deficits in gray matter, brought on by the intermittent oxygen deprivation that comes with sleep apnea. The good news is that these deficits may be partially or fully reversible with early detection and treatment. “Gray matter” refers to the cerebral cortex, where most information processing in the brain takes place. It is a layer of tissue that coats the surface of the cerebrum and the cerebellum and is gray in appearance, lacking the myelin insulation that makes most other parts of the brain appear to be white.

Characterized by a strong and irregular snore, apnea is marked by several cessations of breathing in at least ten seconds during sleep. In one night, dozens of events can occur. With the interruption of breathing, brief awakening occurs. The person goes from a deeper stage of sleep to a lighter and less refreshing one. In addition to being naturally more tired and lethargic, those who have the disorder end up with more chance of developing multiple health problems including loss of gray matter.

UCLA scientists have discovered that patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea show gray matter loss in brain areas that regulate breathing and speech. Nearly 40 percent of these patients also stuttered as children, suggesting that the nighttime breathing disorder may arise from faulty brain wiring early in life. There are tons of studies showing that even mild sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on memory and every-day functioning. Now there’s new research from Stanford University showing that sleep fragmentation can be just as detrimental as sleep deprivation. Their conclusion was that “regardless of the total amount of sleep, a minimal unit of uninterrupted sleep is crucial for memory consolidation.”

Remarkably, however, treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), seemed to reverse these damages. In a recent CPAP sleep study, after three months of treatment, the subjects were evaluated again. There was a gray mater volume increase in the left anterior parahippocampal gyrus, which was associated with improved performance on tests of short-term memory and executive function. Subjects who had undergone treatment also had gains in the right cornu-ammonis and the enthorinal-cortex bilaterally, both of which were associated with improvements in executive function. Indeed, the researchers observed significant cognitive improvement in all parts of the brain.

Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea is critical to successfully managing a person’s health so if you are experiencing daytimes sleepiness, load snoring or think that you may have sleep apnea, find a professional and have an over-night study performed. It could change your life, and potentially save it.

Wellness begins with a good night sleep.

PV Sleep Well specializes in testing for sleep apnea. We are also a supplier of CPAP equipment, available for sale or rent, and accessories.

For additional information or to schedule a screening contact info@pvsleepwell.com.