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Is Memory Affected by Sleep Apnea?

November 19, 2021


Have you found your memory is getting worse? It might not be an age thing, but a sleep thing.

Sleep apnea is characterized by frequent lapses in breathing while a person sleeps, causing them to wake up multiple times throughout the night. You’ve probably heard about the debilitating physical side effects of sleep apnea, including a greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. However, sleep disorders can also have a significant impact on the brain. 

Getting a good night’s rest not only prevents you from feeling tired the next day but also enables your brain to function properly. Consequently, daytime confusion and memory loss are known symptoms of sleep loss, often caused by sleep apnea. Furthermore, several recent studies have concluded that sleep apnea patients may have an increased risk of memory problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

Link Between Memory and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Researchers have long suspected a connection between sleep apnea and cognitive decline. Sleep apnea patients tend to experience many daytime mental symptoms, primarily because they aren’t getting enough restorative sleep. These symptoms include moodiness, fatigue, shortened attention span, and especially impaired short-term memory. 

Many studies suggest that people with sleep apnea have trouble with consolidation, the process of converting short-term memories into long-term ones. Consolidating memories is a vital link in the memory-creating process that can only occur during sleep. When slumber is disrupted by sleep apnea, people have trouble incorporating and categorizing their experiences, often leading to impaired memory formation and forgetfulness.

One significant study at RMIT University in Melbourne assessed memory recollection in 44 adults with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and 44 healthy adults. Researchers found that the untreated OSA group had far more “overgeneral” memories – memories that can’t be recalled in great detail – than the group of healthy adults (52.3% compared with 18.9%).

Importance of Treating Sleep Apnea

It’s clear that sleep can have a major impact on memory. But the good news is, most sleep apnea patients can reduce their risk of developing memory and thinking problems by using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP machines work by using a mask to place pressurized air into the mouth and keep the airway open while a person sleeps. Sleep apnea patients typically report an improvement in their breathing and sleeping after using a CPAP machine. 

Recently, multiple studies have found that CPAP therapy may help address the decline in memory connected to sleep apnea. In addition, other research has confirmed that CPAP treatment, when used regularly, can almost completely alleviate cognitive issues and other effects of sleep apnea. 

How We Can Help

At Advanced Homecare, we offer a wide range of CPAP machines and supplies. If you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea and experiencing memory-related symptoms, contact us today to speak with a certified sleep specialist. 

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