The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Cognitive Problems

Dec 8, 2023 | Sleep Apnea

Research has shown a link exists between sleep apnea and cognitive problems. When obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is left untreated, and someone is deprived of healthy sleep long-term, they show poorer mental function and experience many cognitive problems.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is when a person stops breathing multiple times while sleeping because their airways have become blocked or obstructed, often by the back of the tongue. Someone who has sleep apnea can stop breathing as much as 80 to 120 times per hour, and they may frequently stop breathing for a dangerously long period of time. Every time your breathing stops, your heart rate and blood pressure will increase, and you will also experience dangerously low oxygen levels.

What Happens When Sleep Apnea Is Left Untreated?

When sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to short-term and long-term health issues that, in some cases, might potentially incapacitate affected individuals. People with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may begin experiencing health issues like heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes at younger ages.

Most people who have untreated sleep apnea will develop heart disease, and it has long been assumed that is why they also experience cognitive problems. However, a new study has found that obstructive sleep apnea itself is responsible for harming the brain and causing mental issues, which lends a new urgency to the recognition and treatment of sleep apnea.

Cognitive Problems Caused by Untreated OSA

When obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is not treated, it causes short-term symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, reduced deep sleep, interrupted sleep, and cognitive problems. Cognitive problems commonly experienced by people who have untreated sleep apnea are:

  • poor short-term memory
  • memory loss
  • deficits in short-term visual recognition memory
  • difficulty concentrating
  • attention deficits
  • impulse control deficits
  • declining emotional and social recognition
  • early-onset dementia at younger ages

Sleep Apnea and Cognitive Decline in Men

A new study has shown that otherwise healthy middle-aged men who were recently diagnosed with sleep apnea showed more cognitive problems when compared to men without sleep apnea. Research published in Frontiers in Sleep showed that men with no underlying health conditions recently diagnosed with sleep apnea had poorer mental function in areas like judgment, recognizing other people’s feelings, and impulse control when compared to men without the condition.

Cognitive decline was experienced whether the men had mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea, even when they had no underlying health concerns; however, cognitive decline in men with severe sleep apnea was significantly worse. This new study further emphasizes how important it is to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) early.

How Does Sleep Apnea Cause Cognitive Decline?

Each time obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes a person to stop breathing, there are adverse effects on their body and brain. Doctors and researchers have speculated that the cognitive difficulties experienced by people with sleep apnea could be due to the following adverse effects of sleep apnea:

  • changes in the flow of blood to the brain
  • fragmented sleep
  • high carbon dioxide levels in the blood
  • intermittent low, and often dangerously low, oxygen levels
  • neuroinflammation

Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Many treatment options are available for obstructive sleep apnea, and your doctor will work with you to find the best treatment option. Treatment plans for sleep apnea can include lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol and sedative medications before bedtime, frequent and increased physical exercise, and weight loss when indicated. Other non-surgical options available for treating OSA include oropharyngeal exercises, positional therapy, oral appliances, nasal resistors, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.

To effectively manage your obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and its associated symptoms, including OSA-related cognitive problems, compliance with your treatment plan is extremely important.

Oral Appliances Can Help You Be Compliant with Your Sleep Apnea Treatment Plan

If you have been diagnosed with mild or moderate sleep apnea, FDA-registered oral appliances are available as a treatment option. A qualified dentist trained in dental sleep medicine will choose the right oral appliance for you based on several factors, such as mouth size and degree of snoring. These devices are both comfortable and minimally intrusive. Numerous individuals discover that oral appliances simplify adherence to sleep apnea treatment, thereby enabling effective management of cognitive issues and other symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Specialists in Columbus, Ohio

The sleep apnea specialists at Sleep Better Columbus are committed to providing compassionate care for all patients and helping each patient find the best sleep apnea treatment for them. The sleep apnea treatment offered by Sleep Better Columbus provides a straightforward and cozy approach for quick relief to those suffering from sleep-disordered breathing. Their uniquely crafted mouthpieces serve as an efficient and comfortable alternative to CPAP masks, especially for individuals who find it challenging or prefer not to use CPAP masks.

Sleep apnea is a severe condition, and Dr. Levy can help. Book an appointment online or call Sleep Better Columbus at (614) 777-7350.

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