A new study in the journal Sleep revealed that using special MRI imaging techniques, untreated sleep apnea patients have significantly decreased concentrations of gray matter in certain predictable areas of the brain. This means that the density of neurons is much lower than normal. The average AHI was 52, and on initial inspection of the MRI, there were no obvious structural abnormalities, with no differences in the total volume. However, gray matter density was significantly lower for sleep apnea patients in various areas of the brain that serves important functions such as memory, breathing, cardiovascular function, and autonomic function.
This study complements a prior study that showed that OSA patients have multiple dysfunctional areas of the brain.
I think the implications of this study along with various other similar studies are profound. What this means is that if you have obstructive sleep apnea, you can literally kill off certain parts of your brain, that preferentially control your memory, executive function, your breathing patterns, and even your your heart rate. Could this be an alternate explanation for central sleep apnea? Maybe this is also why not all patients that use CPAP feel significantly better—perhaps the damage is irreversible. What's frightening is that you can suffer permanent brain damage long before your sleep apnea is even picked up and treated.
Take a look at the abstract and read the paper if possible. What do you think about these findings? Please enter your opinions in the text box below.