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Highlights


A new study found that men with severe sleep apnea had a significant reduction in white matter.

One year of CPAP therapy led to an almost complete reversal of this brain damage.

Treatment also improved cognitive scores, mood, alertness and quality of life.

The Healthy Sleep Project is sounding the alarm that snoring is a warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea.

Pledge to stop the snore and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea reverses brain damage

Filed in
  • CDC Healthy Sleep

Thomas M. Heffron  |  Sep 08, 2014
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Sleep apnea causes 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.

Sleep apnea is common in people who are obese. It also occurs frequently in people who have high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes.

Is sleep apnea putting your health at risk? Pledge to stop the snore and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. It will be the start of a new day for your health and well-being!

12 Comments

  1. 1 Phillip Skinner 10 Nov
    hello i am going to be 34 years old today recently i was out on a cpap machine cause i was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea but i have apparently had it since i was a kid but it went diagnosed cause of my other medical problems and the fact that i already had frontal lobe damage cause i was born 3 month premature but anyways i now seem to forget to put on myt cpap when i sleep and i think it is starting to effect more then just the memory i hope that if i can remember to put it on it will help fix the blurriness in my eyes as well as thought processing speed i hope everyone that reads this has a wonderful week
  2. 2 BD 16 Oct
    I’m a 16 your old boy currently in high school and obstructive sleep apnea has greatly impacted my everyday life.  From horrible mood swings (treating my family and friends bad) to awful memory losses. Sleep apnea is a serous problem and if you are undergoing any of these symptoms and think you might have sleep apnea see a doctor ASAP. Since seeing  a doctor and getting my sleep apnea machine my life has turned greatly and I’m now starting to feel better. But on the other note I feel like I have missed so many memories due to memory impairment of this disorder.  If you are having any of these issues and can provide tips for coping with them feel free to talk to me.
  3. 3 Lori 11 Oct
    Kay Pearl I was reading your comment and I am having the same symptoms as you( it’s horrible) and got so extra scared at first thinking it may be something else going on . I haven’t been diagnosed yet I am waiting on my appointment and I also think it’s anxiety triggered by the apnea episode. The pauses on breathing awakes me and it triggers an immediate anxiety attack. First time it happened was 2016 and immediately suspected sleep apnea but it didn’t happen so often and I was not too sure about being tested back then(so wrong). So for anxiety matters I started taking inositol in high doses and noticed my breathless episodes at night disappeared so I continued taking it since it was actually helping my sleep apnea. So totally reassured there was no need to go to a sleep lab. I got pregnant and had to stop taking inositol and hoped for the best so just like a miracle my entire pregnancy and up to recently didn’t have a single breathless episode. It came back not too long ago but this time I am 100% convinced I want to be tested. Meantime I am taking inositol while waiting for the appointment and it’s not working so I can’t wait to see the doctor because it came back in full force. I don’t know why the pauses on breathing are followed by an anxiety  attack (if someone knows please) It has been so bad that I have been so close to call 911 but then I start to feel better. One thing that helped me realize it was an anxiety attack (after a breathless episode ) was that if I got distracted doing something I would feel better. 
  4. 4 Scott 25 Apr
    I was diagnosed with sleep with sleep apnea in March 2019. I stopped breathing 116 times in one hour and my oxygen levels were at 77%. They put the machine on me right away. Since I have been using the CPAP I sleep through the night and my muscle pain in my back has decreased by 50% and keeps going down. I don’t take naps before I go to bed at night and my energy level more than ever.
  5. 5 M.J.J. 17 Apr
    I was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea. I would stop breathing 21 times in an hour. I suffer from extreme fatigue, declined cognitive abilities, depression, and overall weakness. I was prescribed an auto Pap and used it for the first time last night. It takes a little getting used to, but my husband said i didn't snore nearly as much and when I did, it wasn't bad. My chin strap came off while I was sleeping.
    I felt very alert and energized when I first awoke, but it was short lived. I'm certain that with continued treatment, I will be back to my normal self. 
  6. 6 S. Sleep 15 Apr
    I started with CPAP but returned the machine. I refused to use it after a few nights of "worse sleep". I was switched to a BPAP. The ramp up speed really helps with introducing airflow. The air flow for inhale and exhale is programmed.
    Much better now.
  7. 7 Papa 23 Sep
    Bi-Pap is used for my father's extreme breathing blockage (90 % blockage when he lays down). This machine has worked wonders for my 85 years old father. When he uses it every time he naps and sleeps at night, his cognition improves exponentially and the so called dementia is no longer an issue.  The best result was the morning after the second sleep study. I picked him up from the study that morning and his face was a healthy pink (for a brown Indian man). Surprisingly he said throughout that day that he did not need to take a nap and after sleeping the whole night, the next day he still didn't need to take a nap that day either. I am talking about a man who all my life fell asleep every time he sat in a chair or when he was a passenger in a car. He was so well oxygenated from the sleep study that I had never seen him so alert in cognition and full of energy. I wished the lab bi-pap was the same type as the one he was issued. The home issued one when it is used correctly with no leaks and using the chin strap to keep his mouth closed, does a good job if at least 8 hours or more of Bi-PAP is used in addition to use also if he takes a nap. It is the air blockage during the sleep at night and the blockage during the naps in the day without the Bi-PAP aid that does the damage to the brain. I have seen him at his worst without it/(The Bi-PAP) and his best with it. It only gets better with consistent usage. SO USE IT and get back your mind, cognition, energy, and your life.
  8. 8 KAY PEARL 17 Jun
    I've recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea and will be going in for titration in a few days. For about two weeks I'm experiencing a feeling of fainting in my sleep that makes me numb , lethargic and extremely light headed. I immediately wake up. I'm worried this may be something other than sleep apnea related. I've talked to my Dr's MA and they think it's anxiety. Does this sound familiar??
  9. 9 Ahmed 14 Apr
    How long after you see real improvements of brain function after MMA surgery? It's been 4 months and I don't see any difference in terms of my brain function.  I still have many issues including mood disorder, panic attack, anxiety, depression, memory loss etc.
  10. 10 R. Waters 22 May
    I had encephalopathy due to sleep apnea.  I never even knew I had sleep apnea.  For the past 6 years I have been so sick, in and out of hospitals, chronic infections, etc.
    I was sent for a sleep study 6 months ago which showed that I had very severe sleep apnea...I was waking up 120 times an hour (2 times a minute.)  Since I got my CPAP about 4 months ago I am a new person.  Virtually no physical problems.  I still can't believe it.  Now I'm waiting to see if my cognitive abilities (which are the pits) will get better...
  11. 11 Clare 01 Feb
    This is such encouraging news for me.Very recently I was told I had poor cognitive powers and was diagnosed with  Dementia and Altzimers .I have had a long period of Sleep Apnea well over a few years which I did not know about until 6-7months ago.I was so tired all the time but never thought it might be the cause.I finally had a sleep study which showed a very severe case and I was put on CPAP immediately.I am now so much better than 2 years ago and hope that I will have the results you show.
  12. 12 B. Perry 07 Jan
    Many health problems because of sleep apnea.  I, according to recent sleep study, stop breathing 39 times per hour.  Consequently, have not slept in years.  Health has declined to the point that I can no longer work.  Waiting on B-pap

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