Sleep apnea is 80% undiagnosed and untreated, but it’s familiar enough that many people are aware of it. You may even know someone receiving treatment, or maybe you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea and are wondering if you should get tested. Sometimes, we think of sleep apnea as simply not getting enough sleep. While this is true, it’s more complicated than that. Untreated sleep apnea leads to health consequences throughout your entire body. One such consequence is dementia. If you have sleep apnea, treating it can lower your dementia risk.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep-breathing disorder where you experience pauses in breathing throughout the night. These pauses could be due to an obstruction in your airway (obstructive sleep apnea) or a neurological issue (central sleep apnea), though obstructive sleep apnea is, by far, the most common form of sleep apnea. In either case, your brain senses the lack of oxygen or excess CO2 and awakens you to resume breathing. You won’t always notice these awakenings since they are so brief, but the fragmented sleep from sleep apnea can be debilitating. You could stop breathing for ten seconds or even a minute before your brain awakens you, and it could happen hundreds of times per night, depending on the severity of your condition.
Think about the lack of oxygen you’d experience if you stopped breathing 100 times per night for a minute. You’d spend almost 21% of your eight hours “asleep,” not breathing. While that may be an extreme example, it’s a reality for some.
The lack of oxygen is an issue for your brain and body, and your fragmented sleep also doesn’t allow your body to enter into the different stages of sleep for long enough. The stages of REM and deep sleep are essential to your wellness because it’s during those stages your body restores itself for the coming day.
What is Dementia?
Most of us have heard of dementia, but many don’t know that the term “dementia” is a term that describes a group of diseases. It’s categorized by at least two types of dysfunctional brain function, such as memory loss and judgment (these are the most common). Types of progressive dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia. There are also diseases linked to dementia, such as Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and a traumatic brain injury. And there are health issues that cause dementia that doctors can reverse, like infections and immune disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and brain tumors.
Research continues to tell us that sleep apnea and dementia are linked.
Connecting Sleep Apnea and Dementia
The more researchers look into the link between sleep apnea and dementia, the more evidence suggests that the two conditions are linked. That is, sleep apnea can cause damage to the brain resulting in dementia.
A 2022 study found that sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of dementia with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies of 1,333,424 patients from 3 countries were collected and analyzed. Researchers found that sleep apnea increased the risk of Alzheimer’s by 34%, Parkinson’s by 54%, and all-cause dementia by 28%.
The findings tell us there are many different neurological pathways in which sleep apnea affects the brain and causes dementia. As we continue to study sleep apnea and dementia, we’ll better understand why sleep apnea causes a range of dementia types.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Can Help
The one takeaway from these studies is that those without sleep apnea have a lower risk of dementia. Sleep apnea treatment is the only way for those with sleep apnea to avoid health consequences.
There are two prevailing types of treatment for sleep apnea. The first is a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.” It’s a machine that pushes oxygen into your lungs through tubes connected to a mask over your nose and/or mouth while you sleep. CPAP can treat all types and severities of sleep apnea. The second type of sleep apnea treatment is much less invasive. It’s called Oral Appliance Therapy. Oral appliance therapy treats mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. It’s an orthotic (an appliance worn in your mouth) that holds your airway open while you sleep. It’s small, sleek, and comfortable. Many find it easier to adhere to than a CPAP machine—but your treatment options depend on your type and severity of sleep apnea.
Take Your First Step Toward Treatment: Get a Home Sleep Study
If you’re worried about the effects of sleep apnea on your brain and the possibility of dementia, look at the sleep apnea symptoms and take our online test to get an idea of whether you should get a home sleep study.
Do you think you might have sleep apnea?
If so, order a home sleep test from SleepTest.com. We ship the easy-to-use, comfortable-to-wear sleep test right to your door. We’ll also connect you with a sleep dentist who can help you get the proper sleep apnea treatment. The whole process is as easy as 1-2-3.
- Order a test.
- Take the two-night test.
- Get your results via telemedicine and receive treatment.
If you are tired of poor sleep, daytime fogginess, constant fatigue, and stress from never feeling well rested, it may be time to explore the possibility that you suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Millions of people have OSA, and many of those people suffer the adverse health effects of OSA for years (even decades) before getting a proper diagnosis and treatment for this serious sleep disorder.
Have you ever been tired and groggy despite a full night's sleep? If you or someone you know snores regularly, sleep apnea could be the culprit. Sleep apnea is when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep, leading to a lack of oxygen in the body. This can cause snoring, gasping, and even choking while sleeping. Sleep apnea has been linked to a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
An estimated 29.4 million adults in the U.S. have sleep apnea, and 80% go undiagnosed and untreated. Unfortunately, many men write off their sleep apnea as insomnia, and women underreport snoring. This makes it difficult for physicians and dentists to screen for sleep apnea, diagnose, and provide life-changing treatment.