Symptoms of Sleep Apnea:
Effects on Memory

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Symptoms of sleep apnea can include memory loss, cognitive impairment and ultimately changes in the white matter of the brain. Jonathan complained that he sleeps through the night but seems to wake up most mornings feeling tired. He also that he is less sharp mentally. He wife noticed that he snores a lot and often seems to gasp for air in his sleep.

Could sleep apnea be causing hypoxia? In other words, is Jonathan’s brain receiving enough oxygen supply when he is sleeping? If not, his drowsiness in the morning could be the result of sleep apnea.

According to the National Heart and Lung Institute, sleep apnea (AP-ne-ah) is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. While it is common, it often goes undiagnosed.

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In my practice I always screen for obstructive sleep apnea in every patient I see with memory or cognitive issues. While I believe that this should be standard practice it often is not.

Frequently people with symptoms of sleep apnea don't know they have it because it only occurs during sleep or when they are not conscious.Unless a family member and/or bed partner may first notice the signs of sleep apnea it may go undiagnosed. I have witnessed people denying they have the problem even when a family member insists that they do.

Research suggests that the most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. Often this means that the airway has collapsed or is blocked during sleep. The blockage may cause shallow breathing or breathing pauses called apnea episodes.

It may also be caused by central sleep apnea which means the area of your brain that controls your breathing doesn't send the correct signals to your breathing muscles. Thus, you will make no effort to breathe for brief periods.

In one study of symptoms of sleep apnea, investigators reported that over 4.7 years of follow-up, 44.8% of women with sleep-disordered breathing developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia compared with 31.1% of those who did not have the problem.

If sleep deprived breathing goes untreated it can increase the risk of:

- memory problems, cognitive impairment and even dementia - heart attack, high blood pressure - irregular heart beat - obesity and diabetes - traffic accidents or accidents at work due to drowsiness.

The newer studies are pointing to the fact that Jonathan's poor performance during the day may be caused by breathing problems and not the effect of cognitive decline. In other words symptoms of sleep apnea.

What to do?

If you believe that you may be experiencing sleep apnea, don’t ignore it. Your brain needs oxygen in your sleep to function well and to remain healthy. Talk with your family doctor and suggest that he or she refer you for a sleep study. These studies are done specialty clinics.

Sleep apnea can be a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment. Most people can be helped by lifestyle changes, special mouthpieces, or breathing devices which provide continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Surgery is rarely necessary.

Also see Sleep Deprived for effects on memory

Effects of Anoxia

For more information about this topic consider these resources:

Sleep Apnea Pillow - CPAP Pillow - CPAP Nasal Pillow a Sleep Apnea Mask Device Pillow, Pillow For Sleep Apnea by CPAP

Stop Snoring Snore Sleep Apnea Anti Snoring Device Custom Fitted ProSnore II Snore Appliance by ProSnore

Questions & Answers About Sleep Apnea (100 Questions & Answers) [Paperback]Sudhansu Chokroverty (Author)



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