Sleepiness, Sleep Apnea Symptoms May Have Underlying Cause

Sleep apnea prevents oxygen uptake in the brain

People suffering obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) often explain troubles performing everyday tasks due to being tired. However, new findings show it may their brain that is causing these issues rather than just sleepiness. Mental difficulties may be due to oxygen deprivation based on the structure of the brain in a person who has sleep apnea.

This study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, explains these deficits in brain oxygen may be reversible if detected early enough. This study is also the first of its kind to evaluate what brain structures are affected in an individual with sleep apnea.

For the study, researchers analyzed 17 individuals having sleep apnea and 15 individuals of similar ages who did not have the condition. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a baseline of brain function was determined as each person performed memory and other brain-function tests. Each person was also asked to complete the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to better gauge sleepiness during the day and the Beck Depression Inventory to understand their mood.

Researchers noticed individuals suffering from sleep apnea to have much less gray matter in their brain when compared to those individuals without OSA. Additionally, locations of these gray matter reductions were known to be vital for problem-solving, reasoning, and even daytime sleepiness.

When analyzing test results, researchers also noticed individuals having sleep apnea to score worse on memory and attention functions as well.

Amazingly, reverses to these gray matter reductions were noticed using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment. After only three months, sleep apnea patients noticed increases in almost all cognitive function.

Researchers explain their interest in performing further studies on brain damage and recovery, specifically in individuals suffering from sleep apnea.