Could Snoring Be Damaging Your Brain?

January 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm Leave a comment

Unhappy Bed: image by michelsick on Stock.Xchng Snoring, that night time bane of bed partners, may be doing more than irritating our spouses.  It’s frequently (but not always!) a sign of sleep apnea, a condition where sleepers stop breathing many times during the night, disrupting the quality of their sleep and jolting them awake for a brief, sometimes un-noticeable instant.

In terms of brain fitness, it’s a pretty serious issue.

Poor sleep quality robs the brain of it’s ability to restore itself, affecting long term function as well as short term.  Sleep apnea also puts a strain on the heart and circulatory system, raising the risk for heart disease; good blood flow is crucial to healthy brain function.  Mini-strokes are common in apnea patients, and while there may not be any clear effects, the cumulative damage over years could well be significant.  And because each episode of apnea is, essentially, an experience of suffocation, it potentially raises stress hormones and reactions — another key trouble spot when it comes to brain health.

Is there a link between Alzheimer’s and apnea?  It’s too early to be sure yet – but sleep apnea does tend to worsen as we age.  And according to one study, many Alzheimer’s patients (as high as 80%) do suffer from significant episodes of apnea.  It’s unclear if apnea contributes to the development of the disease, worsens it, or is caused in part by Alzheimer’s, but when treated for the sleep disorder, dementia patients often improve dramatically.

In fact, some improve so much so their dementia appears to have been misdiagnosed sleep apnea!

It makes a lot of sense, given our growing understanding of just how important sleep is to the brain, both short and long term.  While science doesn’t seem to know much about the neurological consequences of apnea yet, it could well be cumulative, meaning that the earlier the apnea is treated, the better the brain may function in the long term.

How is apnea diagnosed and treated?

A firm diagnosis is done in a sleep lab, where you can be monitored as you sleep to identify any episodes of apnea, or other issues.  But there are some at-home testing devices becoming available, and your doctor may assess your risks by taking your history and considering symptoms.

Treatment options vary, and include lifestyle/behavioral changes, a night-time breathing mask called a CPAP, oral dental devices, and in rare cases, corrective surgery.

So is it worth the inconvenience of diagnosis and treatment? Many sufferers insist that yes, it is… based purely on quality-of-life improvements.  But when the potential for impact on cognitive function is considered, treating sleep apnea seems almost a no-brainer.

If concern for your own overall and cognitive health  isn’t enough to motivate you, consider the impact of sleep apnea on your spouse or house mates.   Your snoring likely disrupts their sleep, too – a disruption that, in turn, can affect the health of their brain and put them at higher risk for cognitive disorders.  Consider it second hand snoring 😉

What do you think?

Are snoring, sleep apnea, or other night time disruptions affecting your brain?

Entry filed under: Sleep. Tags: , , , .

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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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