Even though the average person may still view sleep apnea as little more than an embarrassing or disruptive snoring problem, studies have repeatedly shown that the widespread sleeping disorder is responsible for a host of deadly side effects. Stroke, heart disease, kidney damage, and more are all provably connected to sleep apnea. But apparently that list isn’t long and terrifying enough, because researchers have also linked cognitive decline to the sleep condition.

Man looking sad and confused

Sleep Apnea and Cognition

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder in which you stop breathing over and over while you sleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night. This can disrupt healthy sleep, increase blood pressure, and affect daytime energy and alertness, on top of all the more dangerous health risks.

Some estimates suggest that over 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with a whopping 80% of those undiagnosed — and thus untreated.

But the more research that’s done, the worse sleep apnea looks. Studies in recent years have added cognitive decline to the long list of health risks associated with sleep breathing disorders.

Only two years ago, a study assessed the relationship between sleep breathing problems and cognitive impairments to memory and thinking. Out of nearly 2,500 study participants over the age of 55, those with sleep disordered breathing were diagnosed with cognitive impairment an average of 13 years earlier, and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s an average of five years earlier.

And just a few months ago, in January, researchers compared cognitive performance between participants with normal sleep breathing, and participants diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea — both treated with CPAP and untreated. Their results led them to hypothesize that untreated sleep apnea may induce Alzheimer’s earlier, not only when compared to people with non-disordered sleep breathing, but also when compared to people whose sleep apnea is being treated.

To put it more simply: Scientists believe sleep apnea may increase the likelihood of developing cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s, but treatment for sleep apnea may be able to mitigate that increased risk.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffer from sleep apnea and the associated risks but are undiagnosed, how can you know to seek treatment? After all, you’re asleep during the main symptoms of the disorder.

Family or a partner may be able to identify nighttime symptoms, like snoring, particularly snoring that ends in a choking sound. Waking up frequently over the course of the night could also be a symptom of sleep apnea, even if it seems to be related to a nightmare or the urge to urinate.

But there are daytime symptoms, too. It’s common for people who suffer from sleep apnea to wake up feeling unrested, to experience daytime fatigue, and to have trouble staying focused on tasks. If you’re not sure if you have symptoms of sleep apnea, you can try taking this self-assessment quiz.

Sleep apnea can have a real and deadly effect on your overall health. Call (303) 691-0267 or contact us online today to make an appointment and learn more about how your dentist can treat sleep apnea.