Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sleep apnea and memory

If your sleep is disrupted by an irregular breathing pattern known as sleep apnea, research suggests that as you snooze, you lose...brain cells that is. Sleep experts have long known that persons who are restless by night from sleep apnea are befuddled by day, and they assumed that such foggy-headedness resulted from fatigue. Investigators in Kentucky beg to differ, however, after they discovered that periodic lack of oxygen in rodents wreaks havoc on the brain's memory center called the hippocampus.

Dr. David Gozal and his colleagues studied ratty little brains and found that intermittent hypoxia (IH)--the episodic drop in blood oxygen levels that occurs during the prolonged respiratory pauses of sleep apnea--causes apoptosis or death of neurons involved in memory and learning. On the other hand, sustained low oxygen levels such as those that might occur in rats residing in Leadville, CO or in a Tibetan monastary, causes protective adaptive changes that spare these vital brain areas.

These research findings suggest that untreated and prolonged sleep apnea may lead to permanent changes in brain functioning. There is good news, however, from the Southern rodents. Those animals who agreed to undertake the rat-sized equivalent of a one hour daily walk in the park were protected against the destructive effects of IH on their brains.

Bad news, on the other hand, from an analysis of the effects of diet on rat brains exposed to IH. The rats who ate a high-fat, refined-carbohydrate diet (as in American convenience foods) were dazed in their mazes, and the inability to figure a route out was magnified if this lousy diet was paired with IH. The combined effect of IH and fast food on rats prompted Dr. Gozal to call such double trouble "a major disaster for the brain."


Ruth said...

Interesting. My husband has bad sleep apnea (he is not overweight either) He tried the CPAP machine for a year, but it interfered with his sleep and he gave it up. If he is on his side he breathes better.

Anonymous said...

This whole issue has me rattled. I was told by my anesthesiologist during a recent surgery -- done with an epidural -- that I have sleep apnea. This would come as no surprise to anyone who has ever tried to sleep with me. But I can't imagine being able to sleep with one of those CPAP contraptions. Has anyone had succes with the dental splint that my dentist would be happy to make for 2K?

Femail doc said...

Ruth: 'Position therapy' is good alternative for some.

Anon: Oral appliances are of increasing interest due to just what you and Ruth mention--who can sleep with CPAP? I gather the appliances work well for some, moreso in those with smaller lower jaws. I had one patient who was very satisfied with her device. Check out for a dentist certified in the use of these splints. If you're in Denver, she used Dr. Dennis Bailey.

Anonymous said...

I have used a CPAP machine for over 2 years. Every night without fail. I had a very severe case of sleep apnea with hundreds of episodes a night (tested in a sleep lab). Since using the CPAP machine I am down to 1.4 an hour which is close to what a person without sleep apnea would measure.
I feel great and need much less sleep. In addition,my risk for heart disease, diabetes, etc. is much lower.
So I say if you have sleep apnea: Get used to the CPAP machine and use it! This is a serious disease that can lead to premature death.