Impaired Cognitive Function

Poor Memory & Concentration (Impaired Cognitive Function)

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) interrupts your sleep multiple times a night, which leads to poor-quality sleep that leaves you feeling tired all the time. But OSA depletes more than just your energy levels. In fact, research suggests that OSA can impair cognitive function and lead to neurodegeneration. While the exact reason for this is still being researched, researchers believe that OSA causes damage to specific places in the brain.

OSA and Impaired Cognitive Function

A 2020 narrative review published in Sleep Medicine examined 125 articles written between January 1990-August 2018 to examine the relationship between OSA and cognitive symptoms. At a glance, here are some key findings included in this narrative review about the relationship between OSA and impaired cognitive function:

  • Multiple articles found that OSA decreased attention working memory, episodic memory, and executive functions.
  • A couple of articles found that males with OSA have slower cognitive function decline.
  • One study found that females with OSA showed volume decreases in the right hippocampus head and tail. This suggests long-lasting neuronal injury.
  • Several articles noted that people with OSA exhibit deficits in all three parts of attention: selective attention, mental concentration, and shifting. It was also noted that these deficits could affect other cognitive functions.
  • One study showed that people with OSA displayed impairment in all five sub-domains of executive functioning (attention control, working memory, inhibition control, cognitive flexibility, problem solving, and generating new knowledge). It was also noted that working memory is one of the most frequently diminished parts of executive function.
  • Some studies noted that brain damage from OSA can be permanent, although it is not currently known why this is.

How OSA Treatment Improves Cognitive Impairment

Since OSA treatment restores airflow and maintains proper oxygen levels, most patients experience improved cognitive symptoms. Here is what the research says about OSA treatment improving cognitive impairment:

  • A 2014 study published in Sleep also notes that sleep apnea can treat brain damage caused by sleep apnea. Specifically, CPAP therapy could improve cognitive symptoms within 3 months and almost reverse brain damage by the 12 month mark.
  • 11 out of 17 studies published in Sleep Medicine noted a significant improvement in alertness and attention in those who started CPAP treatment.
  • A 2015 study published in Neurology found that regular CPAP use in people with OSA may be able to delay the progression of cognitive impairment.

The evidence is clear: OSA can impair cognitive function and lead to neurodegeneration. This doesn’t just mean that those with sleep apnea feel tired all the time; it means they’re putting themselves at risk for significant long-term damage to their memory and concentration, which could eventually affect other parts of their life as well. 

The good news? There’s a solution! With CPAP therapy, patients experience improved cognitive symptoms in less than 12 months. So if you’ve been experiencing trouble concentrating or feeling fatigued day after day–or think you might be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea–contact Doctor Dreamweaver today to get your home sleep apnea test so you can sleep well and be well.

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