Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?

People who suffer from sleep apnea know all too well how it can impact one’s life. They often wake up feeling tired and as if they did not get enough rest. Many don’t realize just how dangerous this is, however. Studies show that sleep impact can have severe consequences if it goes untreated.

As you drift off to sleep, your throat muscles relax. When this happens, your airway becomes obstructed, and you can stop breathing several if not hundreds of times per night. When this happens, it starves the body and most importantly the brain of oxygen. If you are a loud snorer or wake from a typical night’s sleep feeling exhausted, you may have sleep apnea. Unfortunately, a lifetime of sleep apnea could lead to brain damage.

How can sleep apnea cause brain damage?

Brain damage is any trauma that impairs the brain’s ability to function in the short term, or in severe cases, long-term. If your airway gets obstructed or closes entirely, air cannot reach your lungs, inhibiting oxygen from reaching your body and therefore your brain. Our bodies and brains depend on oxygen to stay alive, and without it, our brain cells become damaged or even die.

With sleep apnea, the lack of oxygen causes our heart rate to slow down and decreases blood and oxygen flow. When we finally take another breath, our heart begins to race to push oxygen to the rest of our organs only to be cut off as the airway again closes. This continuous speeding up and slowing down of the heart is like a nightly marathon for your body without the oxygen available to support it. At this point, cells begin to become damaged and die, causing brain damage.

What else does sleep apnea affect?

Along with affecting our oxygen levels, sleep apnea also affects the chemical levels in our brain. Glutamate—one of the brain’s chemicals used to keep humans calm—increases as the heart races to push blood to the organs during the ebb and flow of oxygen caused by sleep apnea. This can cause toxic reactions and damage to your nervous system.

The white matter parts of your brain help control mood and memory. When oxygen is in short supply, these white matter sections of your brain get damaged and can lead to memory, mood, and emotional problems.

Memory loss and dementia can also be side effects of sleep apnea. Along with the issues mentioned above, a nightly lack of oxygen can make it difficult for the brain to convert short-term memory into long-term memory. Over time, this level of oxygen deprivation can lead to brain cell loss, atrophy, and even dementia.

According to Jessica Kepplinger, who led a Dresden University study, nearly every patient that was the victim of a stroke had sleep apnea. In fact, only nine percent of stroke patients evaluated did NOT have sleep apnea.

How Silent Night Therapy Can Help You

Silent Night Therapy offers multiple devices to help return a restful night’s sleep and long overdue peace of mind. Our office provides several unique oral appliances to aid in your sleep apnea. We treat each patient as an individual and have no problem helping patients with dentures or missing teeth. To find out how we can help you get a better, healthier night’s sleep, contact our knowledgeable team at (631) 983-2463 today.