A limited attention span, impaired decision-making skills and daytime fatigue are among the common side-effects of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Treatment is supposed to eliminate these and other effects of sleep apnea. However, a new study indicates those complications may persist even if an individual is treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a device that circulates air through a mask worn during sleep. Although CPAP is not the only sleep apnea treatment, it remains the most widely prescribed.

Sleepiness may persist even after CPAP treatment

CPAP and Daytime Drowsiness

When patients stick with CPAP, the treatment is effective at reducing the dangerous apnea episodes in which breathing stops repeatedly during sleep due to an airflow obstruction. CPAP helps restore routine breathing and uninterrupted sleep, and diminish symptoms such as snoring and morning headaches.

Yet approximately one-third of patients undergoing CPAP treatment for sleep apnea continue to suffer from recurring daytime drowsiness, according to a Reuters article on a recent study conducted at Brazil’s Federal University of Sao Paulo. While researchers did not pin down why this sense of fatigue remains following CPAP therapy, they did find correlations between lingering sleepiness and impaired mental functions.

Sleepiness and Cognitive Skills

Researchers examined two groups of patients diagnosed with OSA and treated with CPAP. Each group consisted of 15 patients between the ages of 35 and 60, with an even distribution of men and women; patients in one group complained of excessive daytime sleepiness, while patients in the other group reported no daytime fatigue.

The research team assessed various brain functions related to attention, memory and judgment. They also evaluated for depression, another common effect of sleep apnea. Those who felt persistent sleepiness exhibited more depression symptoms and scored more poorly on verbal-fluency tests.

Researchers also found that those in the daytime-drowsiness group struggled to maintain attention and had impaired problem-solving skills. The study’s findings were published earlier this month in the journal Sleep Medicine.

CPAP Alternatives

As the study’s lead author Ksdy Werli observed in the Reuters report, “These individuals do not respond to treatment, and eventually will drop CPAP because they will not feel better.” Many patients find CPAP masks uncomfortable and discontinue use before they experience any benefits.

While CPAP has long been the standard for sleep apnea treatment, an increasing number of people with sleep apnea have turned to oral appliances. These custom-made devices fit your unique bite and jaw structure, and they are designed to promote an open airflow during sleep.

Oral devices are more frequently recommended for mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea, but they can also be advantageous for those who suffer from severe sleep apnea and are unable to tolerate CPAP.

Denver neuromuscular dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has helped numerous patients treat sleep apnea and restore healthy sleep with the use of comfortable oral appliances. To schedule your appointment at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado, please call us today at (303) 691-0267.