The Neurodegenerative Effects of Sleep Apnea

Due to the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases in America, scientists have experienced an increased interest in determining just what causes the diseases so that they may get closer to finding a better form of treatment and prevention.

In recent years, studies have suggested that there is a link between common forms of dementia (like Alzheimer’s disease) and obstructive sleep apnea. So, what is the connection between neurodegenerative disorder and obstructive sleep apnea?

We’ve gathered some information in this article to help you better understand this link and provide you with some ideas to help prevent the development of these diseases.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world. It accounts for up to 80 percent of dementia cases and is not a normal part of the aging process. Early symptoms include the inability to remember newly learned information, as the disease tends to attack the centers of the brain the store newly recorded memories first. Symptoms will then increase in severity as the disease progresses. More severe symptoms include mood and behavior changes, confusion about events or time, more serious memory loss, and difficulty speaking or walking.

As the disease progresses, these symptoms may become more pronounced and eventually lead to death, as there is no cure for the disease. Often, the symptoms are not readily apparent to the person experiencing them and are often noticed by family members or loved ones first.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea, more commonly known as sleep apnea, is a sleep disorder that is characterized by the collapsing of the airway during sleep. The muscles of the throat are unable to keep the airway open and lead to periods of interrupted breathing during the night. Certain factors, like weight gain, can exacerbate sleep apnea, and the most common treatment for this sleep disorder is the implementation of a device that can keep the airway open during sleep, like the easy-to-use intraoral appliance.

OSA and Alzheimer’s Disease

In nearly all of the cases, Alzheimer’s disease develops sporadically, where environmental factors play a role in the development of it. One of those environmental factors may be a disruption in the circadian rhythm due to obstructive sleep disorders, like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes what is called “intermittent hypoxia,” or lack of oxygen in the body, which has been shown to be one of the environmental factors that cause the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Additionally, the disruptions in sleep after the onset of Alzheimer’s can cause symptoms to worsen exponentially and the disease to progress faster.

OSA and Other Neurodegenerative Disorders

  • Parkinson’s Disease: While the data from the studies that examine the effects of OSA on Parkinson’s disease is conflicting, the effects that Parkinson’s has on the respiratory system is well-documented, which can lead to an increased risk of sleep apnea, which in turn can further damage the respiratory system.
  • Multiple System Atrophy: Multiple system atrophy is often partially characterized by a narrowing of the airway, which can cause sleep apnea in patients.

A Vicious Cycle

Often, obstructive sleep apnea causes disturbances in sleep that leads to a progression of neurodegenerative diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease. This, in turn, leads to further sleep disruptions due to the nature of the disease, which then worsens the effects.

This cycle is commonly found in patients who have experienced the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and experience sleep disturbances as a result. Armed with this knowledge and knowledge from other studies, it has been determined that working to reduce sleep disturbances can help reduce the risk of the onset of neurodegeneration.

Treating OSA May Help Reduce Your Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Working with a sleep professional to treat your sleep apnea may help reduce your risk of developing other neurodegenerative diseases later on down the road. Since there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, the only course of action is to work to treat (and in some cases prevent) sleep apnea, thus minimizing the risk. If you think you have sleep apnea, there are a few treatments available to you.

1. Intraoral Appliances

An intraoral appliance can be used to treat a number of sleep disorders. It has the same size as a mouth guard and helps keep your airway open. These appliances are superior to CPAP machines, as those are bulky and take up a lot of energy as they stay on all night.

2. Weight Reduction

There is a clear link between increased weight and the development of sleep apnea in overweight patients. You may find that working with a nutritionist and implementing a regular exercise routine is a beneficial route to take in reducing sleep disturbances.

Of course, getting an intraoral device will start one with obstructive sleep apnea on the right course immediately, given that weight reduction is a longer-term strategy.  In combination, however, the device plus weight loss should bring better sleep.

Get Better Sleep and Stay Healthy

If you’re at risk of neurodegenerative disorders, getting a restful night’s sleep can help reduce the risk of developing those disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea is a preventable disorder that can be easily treated with sleep aids like an intraoral appliance, which allows you to get the healthy sleep that you need to live a long and healthy life.

Advanced Sleep Solutions of Virginia, an affiliate of the Advanced Sleep Solutions Centers of America, can provide you with an FDA-approved Somnomed intraoral treatment device that will help mitigate the effects of sleep apnea.

We prefer at-home sleep testing over in-lab testing, and our online scheduling feature makes the entire process easy and convenient. Additionally, we offer secure telemedicine portals for communication with licensed sleep professionals.

We work to make the entire process efficient and easy, so you can get a better night’s sleep as quickly as possible. Schedule your appointment now or call us at (703) 689-2480.

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