As they lay their head down to rest each night, 25 million American adults struggle with sleep apnea – a sleep disorder that involves the temporary, and repetitive interruption of breathing.
Deriving its name from the Greek word for “without breath,” obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a “destructive” disease that can be debilitating for health and may even increase your risk of death, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Causing a host of symptoms during shuteye, the condition is marked by gasping, snoring and choking – or silent breathing pauses throughout sleep, which can be disturbing for both sufferers and their partners.
But the symptoms don’t stop when you wake. A lack of restorative slumber can lead to daytime sleepiness, memory problems, depression, and anxiety. Every time breathing ceases during the night, victims of obstructive sleep apnea experience a drastic drop in oxygen levels that damage the body’s cells.
A study conducted by Sleep journal found that both gray and white matter are diminished in the brains of subjects with this sleep disorder. To put it simply, the central nervous system is divided into two main areas (gray and white), with processing done in the gray area, while the white matter allows for communication between gray matter regions.
Many associate OSA with heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes but recent studies have brought to light the link between brain damage and sleep apnea. Because sleep apnea toggles the levels of neurotransmitters like GABA (the chemical messengers that carry, boost, and balance signals across chemical synapses), those affected by OSA can sustain physical and considerable brain damage. If you’re struggling to remember things during the day, this may not be a coincidence. Mammillary bodies, the structures in the brain responsible for making memories, are up to 20 percent smaller in size in people with OSA versus those who don’t have OSA sleeping woes.
A 2018 study led by the AASM has shown that continuous positive airway pressure therapy – better known as CPAP, can reverse white matter damage brought on by obstructive sleep apnea. Highlighting the mood and alertness levels of this sampling of participants, the results proved promising; wearing a breathing device for 12 months led to an almost complete reversal of the harm done. Should you elect to utilize a CPAP machine, don’t expect overnight results. Those with OSA have often racked up excessive amounts of “sleep debt,” the compounded effects of not getting enough shuteye. Use your machine religiously, however, results should begin to take effect in three to six months.
The first step in diagnosing sleep apnea and any other sleep disorder is making a visit to an experienced physician. A diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Medical Specialties, Dr. Jeannine Louise Gingras has been offering patients top-notch sleep care since 1999. She continues to provide optimal solutions to her client’s sleep struggles. For more information on how sleep medicine can help you, or to schedule your consultation, call (704) 944-0562.