"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Sleep apnea is linked to brain aging, dementia and stroke

May 11, 2023 – People with sleep apnea who spend less time in deep sleep usually tend to have brain health problems that may result in dementia, Alzheimer's disease or stroke, a brand new study shows.

Previous studies have shown a link between sleep problems, cognitive decline and dementia. This latest study checked out possible causes. Researchers on the Mayo Clinic examined two indicators of brain health in individuals with sleep apnea. Using MRI images of the brain, they were capable of detect signs of aging within the brain's white matter and nerve connections.

The results weren't conclusive enough for researchers to say sleep apnea causes cognitive decline or strokes, but they were solid enough to prompt scientists to analyze further.

In a opinionResearcher Diego Z. Carvalho, MD, said the findings are “important because there is no treatment for these changes in the brain, so we need to find ways to prevent them from occurring or getting worse.”

The study was published on Wednesday in neurologythe medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, and included 140 people diagnosed with sleep apnea whose average age was 73. The researchers analyzed data from MRIs of the people's brains and from nighttime sleep studies.

Reduced deep sleep (also called slow-wave or non-REM stage 3) was directly related to the looks of the brains of older people. The less time someone spent in deep sleep, the older their brain looked.

The people within the study suffered from essentially the most common type of sleep apnea, called obstructive sleep apnea. This condition blocks the flow of air in or out of the mouth or nose, even when the person tries to breathe.