A new study reports that men with severe obstructive sleep apnea have less brain gray matter. This may help explain the cognitive problems that often occur in people with OSA.
The results were published in the Feb. 1 issue of the journal Sleep.
The South Korean study involved 36 men with severe OSA. They had an average of 52.5 partial and complete breathing pauses per hour of sleep. Their average age was 44.7 years. They were compared with 31 healthy, male, age-matched controls.
Brain scans were conducted using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A processing technique called “optimized voxel-based morphometry” found structural differences in gray matter by examining the entire brain.
Results show significant differences between men with severe OSA and healthy controls. Gray matter concentrations were decreased in multiple brain areas of men with OSA.
“Poor sleep quality and progressive brain damage induced by OSA could be responsible for poor memory, emotional problems, decreased cognitive functioning and increased cardiovascular disturbances,” study co-author Dr. Seung Bong Hong told the AASM.
The NINDS reports that “gray matter” refers to the cerebral cortex. This is where the brain does most of its information processing. The cortex is a layer of tissue with a gray-colored appearance.
The men in this study were newly diagnosed and untreated. Dr. Hong said that they could benefit greatly from treatment with CPAP therapy.
“The use of continuous positive airway pressure – CPAP - therapy could stop further progression of brain damage in patients with severe OSA,” said Hong.
Last year the Sleep Education Blog reported that CPAP therapy may help restore a normal pattern of brain activation. Other studies have provided more evidence that untreated sleep apnea causes brain damage.
Are you at risk for sleep apnea? STOP and find out. You also can answer these questions on SleepEducation.com to learn more about your risk. Get help for sleep apnea at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.
Read more about sleep and the brain.