The human brain is as complex as it is wonderful. Unfortunately, it is also somewhat delicate. Even seemingly simple things, such as not getting enough high-quality sleep, may adversely affect how it functions. This blog post explores the link between sleep apnea and brain health. It also touches on what you can do to support your brain’s well-being.
OSA Can Compromise the Blood-Brain Barrier
The blood-brain barrier is a network of tissue around the brain that serves to protect it from various substances. Its intelligent design allows necessary things, such as water and oxygen, to easily pass through. Other things, however, including most bacteria, fungi, and parasites, are prevented from reaching the brain.
Unfortunately, researchers have found that in many people with obstructive sleep apnea, (OSA) the blood-brain barrier is compromised. It is more permeable than it should be, which means that harmful substances are more likely to get through. Individuals with this problem are at an increased risk of developing depression, anxiety, memory loss, and even dementia.
It is believed that the link between OSA and blood-brain barrier damage may stem from the fact that people with OSA do not get enough oxygen during sleep. It may also be related to high blood pressure, which is frequently present in individuals with OSA. However, scientists have yet to gain a complete understanding of why OSA can harm the blood-brain barrier.
Sleep Apnea and Other Brain Tissues
Mammillary bodies are structures in the brain that are important for memory storage. Unfortunately, the mammillary bodies of individuals with OSA can be around 20% smaller than those in people who enjoy untroubled sleep.
The link between OSA and poor brain health goes even further. Multiple studies have shown a correlation between it and decreased amounts of white and gray matter in the brain. Both of these types of tissue are important for supporting memory and regulating emotions.
Protecting Your Brain Health
The above information may be alarming, but there is no need to panic. While the brain can be greatly affected by poor-quality sleep, it is also resilient. It can begin to repair itself after you take steps to address OSA and other sleep problems. In fact, studies have found that after only one year of treatment, patients regained nearly all of their lost white matter. Gray matter showed significant improvements after only three months. The blood-brain barrier, too, also has a remarkable capacity to repair itself when the body is no longer being exposed to the constant stress of OSA.
It is unlikely that you will need expensive brain scans to notice improvements in how your mind functions. Many patients discover that after a few weeks or months of sleep apnea therapy, they experience happier moods, increased concentration, and improved memory.
Sleep apnea can damage your brain! The good news is that with proper treatment, you can protect this precious organ.
Meet the Practice
Dr. Mitch Conditt is an experienced sleep dentist. Whether you have already been diagnosed with sleep apnea or you simply suspect that you have it, he and our team would be happy to guide you on the path to better rest. To learn more about Dr. Conditt and the services our practice provides, contact us at 817-527-8500.