Sleep Apnea May Cause Brain Damage

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – one of the most common of all sleep disorders – can cause brain damage. That’s the word from a French study of 16 adults, each recently diagnosed with sleep apnea.

The study, published in the March 2009 issue of The Journal of Sleep research, found a loss of “gray matter” – brain tissues that contains nerve fibers and nerve cell bodies – in apnea patients. There was also a decrease in brain metabolism. The authors suggest that these changes may explain some of the impairments that occur in people with sleep apnea.

Moreover, a report from a UCLA research team and published in the June 2008 Neuroscience Letters reported that people with sleep apnea have tissue loss in the “mammillary bodis” – regions of the brain involved in memory storage. The UCLA study included 41 individuals with moderate to severe sleep apnea and 69 control subjects matched by age. Subjects with sleep apnea showed extensive alterations in “white matter” nerve tissue in the brain that contains fivers insulated with myelin – a white, fatty sheath.

The structural changes appear in brain regions involved in mood control and memory, areas that also play a role in adjusting blood pressure. The authors suggest that sleep apnea, which involves breathing pauses that can occur hundreds of times during a night of sleep, causes dramatic reduction in blood and oxygen levels in the brain

For more information, see the Web site of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

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