Sleep apnea linked to worse brain health

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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common but serious sleep disorder. It causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep. One of the most common types is obstructive sleep apnea.

This happens when the throat muscles relax and block the airway. The affected person may snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep.

The Study and Its Objective

Recently, a group of scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, carried out a study. Their aim was to find if there’s any connection between sleep apnea and certain brain biomarkers.

These biomarkers have been linked to a higher risk of serious health issues. They include stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive decline.

What are Biomarkers?

Biomarkers are measurable substances in the body that can indicate disease or infection.

In this study, the researchers were interested in two types of biomarkers in the brain. Both of these are linked to the health of the brain’s white matter.

What’s white matter? It’s the part of the brain that connects different regions together. This is vital for the brain to function properly.

One biomarker is white matter hyperintensities, tiny lesions seen on brain scans. These become more common as we age or if we have uncontrolled high blood pressure.

The other biomarker is the integrity of axons. Axons are nerve fibers that connect nerve cells together.

The Study Design and Findings

The researchers studied 140 people with an average age of 73. All of them had obstructive sleep apnea.

They underwent a brain scan and an overnight study in a sleep lab. None of them had cognitive issues at the start of the study, nor developed dementia by the end of the study.

The sleep study was specifically interested in the time spent in slow-wave sleep. This is also known as non-REM stage 3, or deep sleep. It’s thought to be a good indicator of the quality of sleep.

The results were interesting. The researchers found that a decrease in the percentage of slow-wave sleep was linked to an increase in the amount of white matter hyperintensities.

This was similar to the effect of age 2.3 years. A similar decrease was also connected to reduced axonal integrity, akin to age three years.

They also discovered that people with severe sleep apnea had more white matter hyperintensities than those with mild or moderate sleep apnea. They also had reduced axonal integrity in the brain.

What These Findings Mean

These findings suggest a link between severe sleep apnea, reduction in slow-wave sleep, and changes in brain biomarkers.

While the study doesn’t show that one causes the other, the association is significant. It could have important implications for the prevention and treatment of conditions like stroke and Alzheimer’s.

The Study’s Limitations

Despite the significant findings, the study did have some limitations. The sleep study was a split-night design.

This means that the participants’ sleep was monitored until they were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, usually in the first few hours of sleep.

They then used a positive airway pressure machine for the rest of the night. This means that the sleep measurements might not accurately represent a full night’s sleep.

The Way Forward

More research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the relationship better. For instance, does poor sleep quality or sleep apnea cause changes in these brain biomarkers?

Or is it the other way around? Could improving sleep quality or treating sleep apnea affect these biomarkers? These are all important questions that future studies should address.

If you care about sleep, please read studies that common sleep and anxiety drug may cause addiction, and this herb may help you sleep better at night.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about common food oil in the U.S. that can change genes in the brain, and results showing this mental health drug may harm your brain health.

The study was published in Neurology.

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