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Sleep Apnea Side Effects: The Surprising Damage it Can Have on Brain Health

on August 20, 2020

Sleep Apnea And Brain Health: What You Didn’t Know 

When people think of sleep disorders and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), they often don’t think about the impact that it can have on brain health. Oftentimes, other physical symptoms that arise as a result of OSA such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are heavily discussed. But Sleep Apnea can take as much of a toll on our brains as they do on our hearts. 

As more and more patients experience Sleep Apnea side effects that impact their cognitive functioning, the link between Sleep Apnea and brain functioning is becoming more recognized. 

Many studies have investigated the sleep-deprived brain and the lasting consequences it can have on our health. As untreated Sleep Apnea can cause individuals to lose out on good quality sleep over a long period, research suggests that without intervention it can lead to the onset of many cognitive issues for patients. 

But what exactly do we know about the havoc that Sleep Apnea can cause on our brain functioning? 


How Does Poor Sleep Quality Affect Brain Functioning?

At a basic level, for our brains to function properly daily, we need to achieve good sleep quality. The reason for this is this organ is essential for several significant processes that take place when we sleep. While it might seem that our brains go to sleep when we do, this is not the case. 

Our brains essentially use this period of inactivity of our conscious selves to carry out some essential housekeeping tasks. These include processes such as solidifying memory, removing toxins and improving cognitive abilities. 

While we sleep, our brains work to consolidate our long-term memory. They do this by identifying the neural connections that were formed during the day and storing the most important ones into our ‘long-term memory’ folder. Our brains also use this time to remove potentially neurotoxic waste products that accumulated during waking hours. 

If the brain isn’t provided with the necessary time to carry out these tasks due to sleep deprivation or disrupted sleep patterns, cognitive functioning suffers a direct hit. That is why many individuals with Sleep Apnea and poor sleep quality note slower reaction times and trouble concentrating. 


Common Ways Sleep Apnea Affects Our Cognitive Capacities 

When left untreated, there are many common Sleep Apnea side effects when it comes to brain functioning that may be a signal that you are suffering from this sleeping disorder. As it impacts an individual’s ability to get a night of undisrupted sleep, it comes as no surprise that it will undoubtedly damage brain health.

Below, we discuss some of the most common changes that Sleep Apnea patients may experience when it comes to brain functioning. 


Memory Loss

As we mentioned above, our brains require sleep to consolidate long-term memory. When this isn’t achieved, many OSA patients have trouble with short-term memory and note feeling more forgetful. Due to non-restorative sleep, the vital cognitive function of retaining information is harder to achieve therefore leading to impaired memory retention. 



Another side effect that individuals suffering from untreated Sleep Apnea may experience is migraines. For those who experience this, it can be debilitating and many patients struggle to carry out normal daily activities when they are already feeling fatigued. 

The reason this symptom occurs is that Sleep Apnea deprives the brain of oxygen and sleep. This can then translate into severe pain and aural sensations. When left untreated, migraines can greatly impact brain functioning in the long run.  



Moderate to severe dizziness is another side effect that many Sleep Apnea patients experience especially first thing in the morning. This occurs due to air pressure changes in the ear during an apneic event. OSA patients that are not receiving treatment may experience multiple apneic events during the night. During an apneic event, airflow is interrupted which causes air pressure changes in the ear canal. 


Brain Structure Changes

Sleep Apnea also can physically alter the physiological makeup of our brain shape. The stress caused by the brain being deprived of oxygen during apneic events and chronic fatigue as a result of OSA has been proven to cause lasting damage to the brain itself as an organ. 

But how exactly does it change the shape of the brain? According to research, structures within the brain called mammillary bodies, which play a vital role in memory storage, become 20% smaller in those who experience interrupted sleep consistently. 

Sleep Apnea also can alter grey and white matter in the brain. There is significant evidence to suggest that severe OSA patients have large deficits in grey matter concentrations within certain parts of the brain. When this occurs, it can lead to hormonal and emotional imbalances, poor memory and cardiovascular problems. 

In regards to white matter, this is strongly related to the condition of the brain’s fibre pathway. If this is compromised, it can reduce a patient’s ability to regulate moods and blood pressure. 


Experiencing Brain Fog? Why You Need To Take Action Now 

If you are experiencing any of the side effects associated with Sleep Apnea above along with chronic fatigue, you must take immediate action by going and seeking help from a physician or sleep specialist. As a sleep disorder, OSA is very serious when left untreated. Not only does it significantly alter your sleep quality but as you’ve just read, it can lead to serious cognitive impairment. 

The good news is that Sleep Apnea treatment such as CPAP therapy has made it possible to reverse the impact that this sleep disorder has on brain functioning and manage its side effects such as migraines and dizziness.

Here at Monster CPAP, we urge individuals to educate themselves fully on how Sleep Apnea can affect the body especially when it comes to brain health. If you have suspicions that yourself or a loved one may be suffering from a sleep-related disorder, don’t hesitate in seeking the help that you need. 

When left untreated, it can be life-altering but with the right treatment plan in place, it can get your sleeping pattern back on track.