Posted on Thursday, June 1st, 2023 at 7:42 pm
For many of us, a bad night’s sleep has become the status quo, often the result of chronic overscheduling, too much late-night blue light, or an underlying medical condition. Unfortunately, poor sleep can have other consequences than a third cup of coffee. In fact, when we regularly shortchange ourselves on sleep, we may be causing harm to our brains.
This blog will dive into the effects of poor sleep on your brain, exploring a phenomenon that’s much more serious than occasional grogginess. In particular, we want to address how sleep apnea causes poor sleep and can potentially cause significant mental decline. We’re here to highlight this issue and show you how we can improve your sleep quality.
How Sleep Apnea Impacts Brain Function
Sleep apnea is a common condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. This constant interruption of breathing means the body may not get enough oxygen throughout the night. If you’re a loud snorer, frequently gasp in your sleep, or feel extremely tired during the day, these could be signs of sleep apnea.
But let’s talk about this condition’s impact on your brain. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, people with sleep apnea who spend less time in deep sleep – also known as slow-wave sleep – may exhibit specific brain biomarkers associated with an increased risk of conditions like stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive decline. These biomarkers represent the health of the brain’s white matter, the part responsible for connecting different regions of the brain.
One of these biomarkers is white matter hyperintensities, tiny lesions doctors can see on brain scans. These become more common with age or with uncontrolled high blood pressure. Another biomarker measures the integrity of the axons, the fibers that connect nerve cells.
The study involved 140 participants with an average age of 73, all with obstructive sleep apnea but without cognitive issues at the start. Researchers found that for every 10-point decrease in the percentage of slow-wave sleep, there was an increase in white matter hyperintensities, comparable to the effect of being 2.3 years older. The same decrease was also linked to reduced axonal integrity, similar to the effect of aging three years. In other words, the less deep sleep the study participants had, the more their brains showed signs of aging and possible cognitive decline.
How Oral Appliance Therapy Helps You Sleep Better
This new study raises a critical question: Could improving sleep quality or treating sleep apnea alter the trajectory of these brain biomarkers?
Treating sleep apnea is what we do at Silent Night Therapy, and we want to help you get the best sleep possible. Our practice focuses on oral appliance therapy, an alternative to a CPAP machine that involves creating customized devices that go in your mouth to help keep your airway clear during sleep. Better airflow during sleep means less snoring and fewer interruptions in your breathing, helping you achieve that deep, restful sleep you crave.
If you have sleep apnea, our compassionate and dedicated team is ready to help you find a way forward and get the rest you need. Call 631-983-2463 today or complete our contact form for a free consultation.