Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide.
It occurs when the throat muscles of a person relax and block the airflow into the lungs during sleep.
OSA can cause symptoms such as loud snoring, restless sleep, daytime sleepiness, and morning headaches, which can be debilitating for both the patient and their partner.
New research from the UK, Germany, and Australia shows that OSA can cause cognitive decline in middle-aged men, even in those who are otherwise healthy and not obese.
The study found that men with OSA showed poorer executive functioning and visuospatial memory, as well as deficits in vigilance, sustained attention, and psychomotor and impulse control.
The researchers also found that OSA can cause significant deficits in social cognition.
The study involved a group of 27 men between the ages of 35 and 70 with a new diagnosis of mild to severe OSA but without any co-morbidities.
Such patients are relatively rare because most people with OSA have co-morbidities such as cardiovascular and metabolic disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic systemic inflammation, or depression.
The researchers also studied a group of seven age-, BMI-, and education-matched men without OSA as a control.
The researchers used a WatchPAT test to confirm the OSA diagnosis and a video-polysomnography to track the subjects’ respiratory function during sleep.
They also measured the subjects’ brain waves during sleep using electroencephalography (EEG) and tracked their blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, and eye and leg movements.
The researchers found that patients with severe OSA had poorer cognitive function than the matched controls.
Patients with mild OSA performed better in these domains than patients with severe OSA but worse than the controls.
The authors concluded that OSA is sufficient to cause these cognitive deficits, which previous studies had attributed to the most common co-morbidities of OSA, such as high blood pressure, heart and metabolic diseases, and type 2 diabetes.
The authors speculated that the cognitive deficits are due to intermittent low oxygen and high carbon dioxide in the blood, changes in blood flow to the brain, sleep fragmentation, and neuroinflammation in OSA patients.
However, the mechanism by which OSA causes premature cognitive decline is still unclear, and future studies are needed to clarify whether co-morbidities have similar negative effects on cognition above and beyond those caused directly by OSA.
Overall, the study highlights the importance of diagnosing and treating OSA, as it can have significant negative effects on cognitive function, even in otherwise healthy middle-aged men.
How to prevent cognitive decline
There are several ways to help prevent cognitive decline:
Stay physically active: Exercise is good for both your body and your brain. It can help improve blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the growth of new brain cells.
Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy and balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts have been shown to help support brain health.
Stay mentally active: Challenging your brain with new activities and experiences can help keep it sharp. Reading, doing puzzles, learning a new skill, and socializing with others are all ways to stay mentally active.
Get enough sleep: Sleep plays an important role in brain health, and getting enough quality sleep is important for preventing cognitive decline.
Manage chronic health conditions: Chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can increase the risk of cognitive decline. It’s important to manage these conditions with regular check-ups and by following your doctor’s recommendations.
Avoid harmful substances: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can both increase the risk of cognitive decline. Avoiding these substances or quitting smoking can help support brain health.
By following these strategies, you can help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and maintain good brain health throughout your life.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how having had COVID-19 may harm your cognitive abilities, and Marijuana can lead to long-term cognitive damage.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s.
The study was conducted by Ivana Rosenzweig et al and published in Frontiers in Sleep.
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