Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?

woman looking very tired

Everybody knows that lack of sleep is bad for you, but did you know that a bad night’s sleep could actually harm your brain? If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may be at risk for more than just grogginess.

What Happens During Sleep Apnea?

One of the most common sleep disorders, sleep apnea impedes the way your body breathes while you’re asleep, which causes you to have a restless night’s sleep. What happens is that your brain senses a lack of oxygen when you aren’t breathing correctly, and as a defense it will wake you up, often abruptly and multiple times per night.

You might not even remember these periods of waking happening, but by disrupting your sleep cycle, the constant waking during the night could leave you feeling groggy the next day. Besides fatigue, sleep apnea can also lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, type two diabetes, and heartburn.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Brain

Now there is evidence that sleep apnea could even negatively affect your brain. According to a new study published online in the Journal of Sleep Research, those who suffer from sleep apnea show changes in the levels of two brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, leading to symptoms that impact their day-to-day lives.

Researchers at UCLA examined levels of glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, known as GABA, in the part of the brain that regulates thinking, emotion, and physical functions such as blood pressure and sweating. GABA is an inhibitor in the brain that slows things down and keeps people calm, while glutamate acts as an accelerator.

Their research shows that people with sleep apnea have lower levels of GABA and higher levels of glutamate. When there are high levels of glutamate, the brain works in a state of stress and doesn’t function as effectively as normal. Combine this with lower levels of GABA, and these patients are at risk for being overly anxious and even depressed. Other symptoms could include a high sympathetic tone, refractory hypertension, and cognitive difficulties.

What Can You Do About It?

If you think you have sleep apnea, it is vital that you get treatment as soon as possible. There are a number of treatment options, such as CPAP and oral appliance therapy, that can help you get your sleeping back on track.

At Sleep Better Austin, we know how important sleep is for you. Dr. Hedgecock's expertise provides treatment and support for sleep apnea, and he’ll be able to work with you to find a solution so you can finally have a good night’s sleep. Contact us for more information today.