Everyone knows that not getting enough sleep can impact your health.  But some sleep disorders not only keep you up, they also contribute to serious medical problems.   In recent years, research into sleep apnea has linked sleep disordered breathing with health conditions like cardiovascular problems, hypertension, diabetes, and now dementia.  A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that sleep apnea may increase the risk of developing dementia late in life by 85%.

The study included 298 women over the age of 82 who were healthy, both mentally and physically at the start of the study.  Participants underwent a series of tests to gauge their mental acuity and completed a sleep study to capture data about their sleep patterns.  About 35% of the participants were identified as having sleep disordered breathing during the first round of testing.  The team performed the same testing and data collection 5 years later and found that nearly half of those with sleep disordered breathing at the start of the study showed signs of mental decline or dementia during the second round of tests.   Amongst participants without sleep problems, about 30% showed similar declines in mental acuity.

Previous research efforts identified a connection between sleep disordered breathing and dementia.  This study took those findings and went further, using tools found in your local sleep lab to capture concrete data about the number of disordered breathing events each participant experienced.  Scientists had suspected that the link between sleep apnea and dementia was a result of the frequent disruption in sleep interfering with long-term memory consolidation which happens while we sleep.  However, this study found that the number of times sleep was disturbed over the course night was not a factor in increasing the risk of dementia.

The use of objective data enabled the team to determine that hypoxia, which is caused by the decrease in oxygen available to the brain that can occur with sleep disordered breathing, is the likely reason for the increased risk.  Sleep apnea alone is not necessarily an indicator.  The increase in risk is related to whether or not hypoxia is present and the duration of that hypoxia.

Even though the study has some limitations, it provides another window into the link between sleep and health, offering those with sleep apnea another reason to seek treatment.  Because there is no cure or treatment to stop the progress of dementia and mental decline, prevention is your best weapon against the condition.  As more health conditions are being shown to have a relationship with sleep, making sure you are getting the sleep you need is more important than ever.  Don’t wait until you are diagnosed with a chronic condition to do something.  If you are concerned about the quality of your sleep, talk to your doctor about having a sleep study done.


About Valley Sleep Center:

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients.  Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems.  They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare.  For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900; https://valleysleepcenter.com.


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