Sleep apnea is a disorder that leads to sleep shortage by an individual. This poor sleep quality can lead to a progressive brain damage induced by OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). It could also be responsible for poor memory, emotional problems, decreased cognitive functioning and increased cardiovascular disturbances.
Sleep apnea Concept
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder whereby breathing is disrupted at intervals; this is caused by the temporary collapse of the tissue in the throat muscle thereby impeding the intake of breath. What this means is that while a person suffering from this medical condition is asleep in the night, there are periods, usually lasting seconds or few minutes, where breathing is interrupted mostly without the knowledge of the person. It is this action that sometimes results into noticeable headaches, drowsiness and ineptitude in the morning. One of its most significant symptoms is snoring. Snoring is caused when the carbon dioxide that is meant to be exhaled out of the lungs forces its way through the collapsed throat muscle, the friction is what causes the sound. The dangerous thing about this condition is that it often goes undetected or unnoticed because most people who suffer from this condition are not aware of it, being that it only happens when they are fast asleep in the night.
The physical side effects of sleep apnea, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes seem to be commonly referred to but obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can cause much more damage on the brain as it does on the heart. Changes in brain matter and damage to neurons caused by sleep deprivation can lead to memory loss and other complications. Studies have shown that sleep apnea can also changes the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Can Apnea Result to Brain Damage?
Experts have found a relation between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and brain damage. They believe that insufficient sleep affect the cerebral cortex of the individual’s brain. These are five particular areas of brain damage from untreated obstructive sleep apnea with their specific symptoms:
- The vetrolateral medulla (VLM). This area of the brain controls breathing and blood pressure regulation. Injury to this area blunts and delays heart rate responses to sudden pressure changes. One sided VLM injury leads to an asymmetric response to blood pressure challenge, which can potentially cause heart rhythm problems.
- The right insular cortex. This is the area of the brain that regulates sympathetic control of the autonomic nervous system. If the insular cortex is damaged, baroreflex control is affected. The insula also controls nerve endings that relate to pain. Both OSA and sleep apnea patients are found to have insular cortex injury.
- 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. One study found that hippocampal damage can be partially reversed after a period of CPAP. The hippocampus is also one of the first areas to be damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.
- The cerebellum is the area of the brain that helps adjust blood pressure control and motor coordination, including breathing. Damage to this area prevents the ability to coordinate vascular and motor activity.
The mammary bodies of the brain are important for memory recall, as well as for remembering certain smells but these structures are much smaller in patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, and almost nonexistent in patients with heart failure.
For the fact that Obstructive sleep apnea can damage critical areas of the brain that regulates breathing, balance, memory, and the autonomic nervous system, means that the implications are enormous and sufferers of the condition should seek for help as soon as possible.
What about memory loss?
Memory loss associated with the brain activity is also a danger posed by sleep apnea; people with the condition tend to experience a range of daytime mental symptoms primarily due to the lack of sufficient sleep caused by frequent waking up throughout the entire night. The symptoms include fatigue, shortened attention span, moodiness, and especially reduced short-term recall. Research also suggests that people with sleep apnea often have trouble converting short-term memories into long term ones. When slumber is interrupted, people have trouble uniting and sorting out their experiences, this leads to reduced memory formation and forgetfulness.
Sleep Apnea can also lead to Changes in the Shape of the Brain. During an apnea, the sufferer actually stops breathing and this causes a decrease in oxygen flow to the brain. This situation, coupled with chronic fatigue, can cause physical, measurable brain damage.
Can the Damage to the Brain Be Restored?
Yes it can, the patient is encouraged to engage in CPAP therapy. CPAP therapy is a machine in form of a mask that helps a person which has the sleep apnea condition to breathe easily. It is a mode of respiratory ventilation done by increasing air pressure in the throat so that the airway doesn’t collapse when you breathe in.
The CPAP technology was developed by Dr. George Gregory and colleagues in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of California, San Francisco. It is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for sleep apnea.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, through a research conducted on the relationship between CPAP therapy and reversion of brain damage in sleep apnea patients, found out that after a year of CPAP treatment, the patients’ white matter was almost completely restored, while their gray matter saw substantial improvement after only three months.
This corroborated other studies that have confirmed that CPAP treatment, when used regularly, can almost completely alleviate the symptoms and effects of sleep apnea, brain damage not excluded. There is therefore hope for people who sustained brain damage due to sleep apnea conditions.