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Sleep Struggles, Learning Troubles: Exploring Sleep Apnea’s Ripple Effect on Brain Power

31 August 2023 Categories: Better Health Author: Katrina Stubbs

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As we go into the back-to-school, back-to-college and back-to-work season, we find that reduced sleep and obstructive sleep apnea play many roles in learning and how sleep affects your brain volume. 

Your brain volume determines your cognitive function – including memory and ability to understand and apply new information. A higher brain volume means better cognitive performance, and a lower brain volume can impact your cognitive performance, as far as developing a risk of dementia. Many studies support the relationship between lower brain volume and obstructive sleep apnea, where OSA is linked to smaller brain volumes in various brain regions involved in memory, mood, executive functioning (high-level thinking skills), and attention. How exactly does OSA impact your brain volume? Let’s explore.

  1. Hypoxia: Affects various areas on the medial lobes volume due to the lack of oxygen that the brain receives. Most often caused by obstructive sleep apnea. When a patient stops breathing due to OSA, the brain isn’t receiving oxygen. This can lead to brain cells dying and permanently damaging the brain.
  2. Reduced Gray Matter Volume: Gray matter is responsible for processing information in the brain. Individuals with severe sleep apnea had a significant reduction in gray matter volume compared to those without the sleep disorder. This reduced gray matter volume suggests potential cognitive impairments and increased risk of neurological problems. Gray matter is responsible for processing information in the brain, and its reduction can affect memory, attention, and executive functioning. Individuals may experience difficulties in concentration, decision-making, and problem-solving.
  3. Hippocampal Atrophy: The hippocampus plays a crucial role in memory and learning. Individuals with untreated sleep apnea exhibited significant hippocampal atrophy compared to those without sleep disorders. This finding suggests that sleep apnea may contribute to memory and learning difficulties.
    This can result in difficulties in forming new memories, retaining information, and recalling previously learned information. Individuals may experience forgetfulness and trouble with tasks requiring memory and cognitive flexibility.
  4. White Matter Integrity: White matter consists of nerve fibres that transmit signals and connect different brain parts. Sleep apnea is associated with decreased white matter integrity. This disruption in the connectivity of brain regions can lead to impaired cognitive function and communication between different brain areas. This can impair cognitive function, including difficulties processing information, slowed reaction times, and reduced mental flexibility. Individuals may struggle with tasks that require complex thinking and problem-solving.

These potential consequences highlight the importance of timely diagnosis and effective treatment of sleep apnea.

If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, we strongly encourage you to seek medical attention and explore treatment options such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, lifestyle modifications, etc.

Early detection and treatment of sleep apnea are crucial for maintaining brain health and overall well-being. By identifying and addressing this sleep disorder in its early stages, individuals can minimize the potential consequences and improve their quality of life.

In conclusion, the connection between sleep apnea and brain size highlights the importance of prioritizing sleep health. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that can significantly impact brain health and cognitive function. By understanding this connection, individuals can take steps to manage their sleep apnea and maintain optimal brain health. 

Please remember to look after the amount of sleep you should get and receive the minimal amount of at least seven uninterrupted hours. Better sleep will assist students in getting the best out of their studies and exploring treatment sooner rather than later will provide you with the best overall outcomes. 

If you feel that you may be suffering from any symptoms of untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea, please reach out to the team at Snore MD, and we will be happy to guide you through determining the best testing and diagnosis options for you. 

Katrina Stubbs Sleep Clinician
Katrina Stubbs

Katrina Stubbs is a Regional Manager and Sleep Clinician at Snore MD and brings over 15 years of experience in the medical field. She prides herself in providing exceptional patient care and education, not only to her patients but to the entire team at Snore MD.

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