Sunday, January 2, 2011

Your Brain and Sleep Apnea

There is an online article in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine from October 2010 that links deficits in thinking and brain cells to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Apparently this study provides the first evidence that brain cell loss occurs in OSA and that treatment can reverse some of those changes.

Researchers showed that patients with OSA before treatment had impairments in thinking, mood, and had excess sleepiness (as might be expected). Before treatment, the OSA patients had brain cell loss in regions thought responsible for abstract reasoning, executive functioning (planning, organizing, etc), alertness.

The researchers speculate that the areas of the brain affected by OSA get damaged when blood oxygen levels drop too low (called hypoxia). I wonder if there is more to it - in addition to hypoxia, OSA causes surges in adrenaline that occur when OSA patients arouse from sleep to open their airway. This adrenaline surge could spike blood pressure which could do damage to the brain over time. Either way, OSA is bad for the brain.

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