Why Sleep Apnea Affects Memory
Sleep is important for recharging both your brain and body as well as your memory. Think of sleep as the time when your brain files away all the information it learned and memories it made throughout the day. When you wake up in the morning, your information will be in the correct spot in your brain and you’ll have plenty of room for more in the upcoming day.
When you don’t sleep enough or sleep well enough, these files might not get stored properly. They might even get lost inside your brain. This is where memory loss occurs.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, you’re not getting the high quality sleep you need to retain information in your head. You won’t just suffer from memory loss, you will find it hard to concentrate to retain any information in the first place. Discover how sleep apnea can affect your memory and learn what you can do to resolve the issue.
The Different Stages of Sleep
Sleep isn’t just important for one type of memory: there are multiple sleep stages that all play important roles in building memory. Unfortunately, sleep apnea can interrupt them all.
Deep sleep is normally described as stage 3 and stage 4 sleep. This is when brain waves slow down, your heartbeat slows, and your body tends not to move.
Deep sleep is important for consolidating “declarative memories,” which are memories that you can recall primarily by word or number, such as baseball stats or historical information.
Deep sleep is very valuable for people who are going to school or who have to be prepared to handle numbers or have them at ready recall as part of their job.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is when your brain and body become more active than in other parts of sleep. Your eyes move, as the name implies, but sometimes, too, you may move your limbs as well. REM sleep plays a role in nearly all types of memories. It helps with declarative memories, but also motor memories, and even emotional memories.
Are You Getting the Right Kind of Sleep?
Chances are, you know that getting good sleep means more than just spending 8 hours in bed. Instead, it’s important to let your body pass through the different stages of sleep uninterruptedly to get the full benefit of sleep.
Sleep apnea interferes with this. The intermittent periods of wakefulness that come from having your air supply blocked prevent you from achieving and spending adequate time in all the different stages of sleep, which leads to memory problems among other effects of sleep apnea.
If you have noticed memory problems as well as daytime sleepiness, you should be tested for sleep apnea.
The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Memory Loss
You might be wondering just how exactly sleep apnea can lead to memory loss. For one, it can make changes to the brain matter. It can also damage neurons and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. These factors can contribute to memory loss. Without a regular flow of oxygen to the brain throughout the night, your brain isn’t getting the nightly restoration it needs to perform correctly. This means it’s not storing away memories and prepping your mind for a new day of information retention.
Sleep Apnea Changes the Brain’s Shape
The mental symptoms of sleep apnea are more serious than you might imagine. When the brain is starved of oxygen all night long, it can result in chronic fatigue and lead to chronic brain damage. UCLA researchers compared structures of the brain responsible for memory between patients with sleep apnea and healthy patients. They discovered that the mammillary bodies of the sleep apnea patients were 20% smaller than the healthy patients.
Other studies discovered a decrease in white and grey matter in the brain of people with sleep apnea. One specific UCLA study found significant damage in the brain’s structural alterations and fiber pathways in its white matter in the areas that regulate memory, mood, and blood pressure. These changes in the brain’s shape indicate one of the reasons why sleep apnea affects memory.
Does Sleep Apnea Treatment Help with Memory Loss?
Yes! Once you start sleep apnea treatment, you will start to sleep restfully throughout the night, without interruptions. This will allow your brain to fully recharge and recover from the day while properly storing away memories. Researchers have also found that after a year of sleep apnea treatment (with CPAP), the damaged white areas of a patient’s brain were almost fully restored and the grey matter saw improvements within three months.
At Good Night Dentistry, we can help you get diagnosed with sleep apnea. Once you’re diagnosed, we’ll work with you to find a treatment that helps you get a restful night of sleep and help you prevent memory loss.
Please call (704) 964-6404 for a new patient appointment with Dr. Ronald Cox, DDS, Diplomate, American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine OR go directly to his calendar and schedule your FREE virtual appointment by clicking here.