Sleep Apnea May Cause Mental Decline Even in Healthy Men, New Study Shows

One of the gnarliest things about obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is how it can impact other aspects of a person’s health and well-being. Conditions that have been scientifically linked to OSA include

  • Hypertension.
  • Heart disease.
  • Heart failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight gain.
  • Metabolic syndrome.
  • Acid reflux.
  • Depression.
  • Brain fog.
  • Memory loss.

Note those conditions related to the mind. Although there’s some evidence now that treating sleep apnea may actually improve cognitive health, it’s long been thought that any OSA-related cognitive issues were an effect of other comorbidities, such as metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular problems.

But we may need to start thinking differently about that, presuming the results of new research out of the United Kingdom hold up.

The study focused on 27 male OSA patients who were otherwise in good health, free from heart disease, diabetes, or other cardiometabolic issues. Sixteen had been diagnosed with mild sleep apnea, while the rest had severe OSA. None were obese. None smoked. None had a problem with alcohol.

Participants were then given a set of “very sensitive” cognitive function tests. Their scores were compared to those of seven men without OSA.

Suffice it to say, the apnea patients didn’t do so well.

Specifically, OSA patients scored more poorly in terms of short-term visual memory skills, the ability to remain vigilant, the ability to plan and make decisions, and the ability to “read” emotions and social situations.

The more severe their sleep apnea, the worse the OSA patients performed, according to the report.

As study author Ivana Rosenzweig explained,

Our study findings suggest that having obstructive sleep apnea may be sufficient for thinking capacity changes to occur as early as in middle age, even in otherwise healthy individuals.

And while the study wasn’t designed to suss out cause-and-effect, she added that the study still suggests that OSA itself is “sufficient to kickstart thinking capacity change.”

This is all the more reason that if you suspect sleep apnea at all, look to getting a sleep test done. A simple test known as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale can help you know if this is something you should talk with your doctor about. (Take the Epworth test online right now.)

If you do test positive, know that CPAP is not your only treatment option. Oral appliance therapy has proven just as effective – and far more convenient and comfortable. You don’t need to be tethered to a machine plugged into a wall. Instead, you can wear a lightweight, appliance that holds your jaw in a more optimal position during sleep, helping your airway stay free and clear.

Best of all, if you do have other health conditions related to apnea, appliance therapy may help improve them. We leave you here with words from one of the most recent scientific reviews on the systemic effects of oral appliance therapy:

Among the various systemic effects investigated in relation to OA therapy, cardiovascular outcomes, particularly blood pressure was the most studied suggesting that OAs may have a small but significant beneficial effect on high blood pressure. OA therapy also showed positive effects on metabolic consequences, cognitive function, depressive symptoms, headache, quality of life, and telomere length.

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