Researchers have observed changes to the brains of severe sleep apnea sufferers. A team in Australia used magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy to compare the brain tissue of sleep apnea patients to people without sleep disorders. They identified significant changes in the frontal lobe white matter and in the hippocampus. The changes to the frontal lobe were comparable to traumatic brain injury.
Patients were examined again after six months of continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP). Changes to the hippocampus were no longer significant. CPAP also improved performance on a range of brain function tests. The study appears in the January issue of the journal SLEEP. It is the largest study to-date for looking at brain tissue changes in sleep apnea sufferers.
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles relax during sleep, causing the soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway. The sleep disorder should never go untreated. If you think you may have sleep apnea, get checked out. Countless sleep centers across the U.S. offer overnight sleep studies for the diagnosis of sleep apnea.