Treating sleep apnea reverses brain damage

Obstructive sleep apnea can be destructive to your brain. But new research shows that CPAP therapy repairs the damage.What is obstructive sleep apnea? OSA is a chronic disease that involves repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep. These breathing pauses can prevent your body from supplying enough oxygen to the brain.

In severe cases this lack of oxygen can lead to brain damage. Signs of this damage include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and moodiness.

The new study involved 17 men with severe, untreated sleep apnea. Brain scans showed that they had a significant reduction in white matter – “the subway of the brain.” The men with severe sleep apnea also showed signs of impaired thinking, mood and alertness.

Each member of the study group was treated with CPAP therapy for 12 months. CPAP provides gently pressurized air through a mask that you wear during sleep. The airflow keeps your airway open and makes it easier to breathe.

Results show that one year of CPAP therapy led to an almost complete reversal of white matter damage. Treatment also improved cognitive scores, mood, alertness and quality of life.In a previous study the authors found that severe sleep apnea also causes damage to gray matter in the brain. Three months of CPAP therapy helped repair this damage too.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is a destructive disease that can ruin your health and increase your risk of death,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. He is a spokesperson for the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. “Treatment of sleep apnea can be life-changing and potentially life-saving.”

The Healthy Sleep Project is sounding the alarm that snoring is a warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea. The rattling, vibrating sound is more than just an annoyance. It is an indicator that air is not flowing freely through the airway.

Silent breathing pauses that can last up to 30 seconds are another warning sign for sleep apnea. Sometimes these pauses persist for one minute or longer. These breathing pauses often end with a choking or gasping sound. Daytime sleepiness or fatigue often result from this cycle of sleep disruption.