Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?

We’ve shared the dire consequences – from glaucoma to tinnitus to heart disease – that can result from too little sleep. But this one has even us a little shocked.

In a recent study out of a university in Italy, researchers studied four groups of mice. The first group was allowed to sleep as long as it wanted with no interruptions. The second group was woken up periodically, while group three was forced to stay awake for an extra eight hours. The fourth group got it bad: in an effort to mimic chronic sleep deprivation, they were deprived of sleep for five straight days.

The damage done, the researchers then studied two types of cells that play key roles in overall neurological housekeeping: astrocytes (which prune old synapses in the brain to rewire it for ongoing use) and microglial cells (think of them as the brain’s garbagemen, clearing the brain of damaged cells and debris).

What researchers discovered was revealing and even a bit disturbing. Astrocytes were active in 6% of the synapses of the well-rested mice, versus nearly 14% of those in the sleep-deprived mice. And microglial cells were active only in the brains of the sleep-deprived mice. Meaning that the sleep-deprived mice had waste in their brains that needed to be cleared out.

To put it another way: the sleep-deprived mice experienced more damage to the brain synapses than the well-rested mice. And the sleep-deprived mice had brain cell damage that the well-rested mice didn’t experience at all.

What does this mean? Chronic sleep deprivation can cause the brain to have to rewire itself more aggressively to continue to function, and can cause it to break down in ways that it doesn’t if you’re getting sufficient rest. In simple terms: if you’re suffering from something like chronic sleep apnea, your brain could be eating itself.

If you think you’re suffering from chronic OSA, please contact us for an at-home sleep study.

Sources:

If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep, Your Brain Literally Eats Itself (ScienceAndStuff.com)
The brain starts to eat itself after chronic sleep deprivation (New Scientist)

Winter is upon us, which means that cooler temperatures are here! If you live in the Dallas area like us, you’re probably welcoming the change in seasons. It will also mean that you will probably be sleeping in a chillier bedroom. And that will likely be a good thing.

Lots of people prefer to sleep in a colder environment. Most find it’s more pleasant to sleep warm, not hot, and sleeping in a cold room makes it easier to avoid night sweats as well. But as it turns out, there are several health benefits to it as well.

  1. You’ll probably fall asleep faster. At nightfall, your core body temperature drops, which your body takes as a signal that it’s time to go to bed. A cooler nighttime temperature helps to reinforce this signal. Conversely, hotter night temperatures can disrupt this signal and make it harder to fall asleep.
  2. You’ll probably enjoy deeper sleep. Nobody likes waking up drenched in sweat, which is less likely to happen in a chilly environment.
  3. Your hormones are likely to be more balanced. A cold environment can stimulate the body’s natural production of melatonin, the well-known sleep hormone. And it can also help produce more growth hormone.
  4. It can help promote weight loss. If you’re sleeping in a cold environment, your body has to work harder to keep your temperature boosted throughout the night. This means your metabolism is naturally higher throughout the night as your body needs to generate more body heat.
  5. It can help reduce the risk of insomnia. One of the symptoms of stress – which in turn can contribute to difficulty falling asleep – is an elevated body temperature. If your body is running hot due to stress, a colder temperature can help dial it down, which in turn can help you get to sleep faster.

Obviously, all this means that getting a good night’s sleep will be harder starting in June. But for now, let’s take advantage of the drop in temperatures and get better rest.

Source: Is It Really Better To Sleep in a Cold Room? (Sleep Advisor)

Getting good sleep is a critical part of optimal health. As we’ve shared previously, getting good sleep is connected to a longer overall lifespan and good cardiovascular health. Now a new study backs up the connection between good sleep and overall heart health.

A new study presented by the European Society of Cardiology’s Congress 2022 recruited more than 7,000 participants from the ages of 50 to 75 who were free of cardiovascular disease from 2008 – 2011. The researchers went beyond mere sleep duration, looking at five different sleep variables and their impact on cardiovascular health, and assigned each participant a score of 0 to 5. Those with optimal scores were well rested in every sense: they got 7-8 hours of sleep each night, rarely or ever experienced insomnia, didn’t suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness or sleep apnea, and were what most would consider morning people.

Over the course of the next ten years, researchers checked on the participants every two years to measure their risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. What they found was eye-opening, even for those interested in the impact of good sleep on overall health. For every one point rise in sleep score, the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke decreased by 22%. Moreover, the researchers found that if all participants had an optimal sleep score, 72% of new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke could be avoided each year.

Achieving a good night’s sleep can be challenging, particularly in our 24/7, always-on society. But the research is pretty straightforward: getting your sleep issues under control is critical to a healthy life.

Source: With Optimal Sleep ‘72% of New Cases of Coronary Heart Disease & Stroke Might Be Avoided’ (Sleep Review)

If you think that you’re suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, you’ll need to confirm it through a proper diagnosis.

There are a couple of different ways to test for OSA. One is a polysomnography, or an overnight sleep study in a hospital or clinic. However, there are a few challenges with this type of exam:

  1. The cost. By definition, it’s an overnight hospital stay, which means it’s inherently expensive.
  2. The time away from home. Depending on what you do for a living – particularly if you travel frequently – trying to get your schedule aligned so that you can be home long enough to do it can be challenging.
  3. The quality of the results. A traditional polysomnography involves attaching electrodes to different parts of the body, particularly the head. And some folks have trouble sleeping in a bed that isn’t their own. Put it all together, and you might have trouble falling asleep well enough to get useful results.

Fortunately, digital technology has improved in recent years to the point that it’s now possible to conduct a sleep study remotely from the comfort of your own bed, without the need to spend the night at a clinic.

There are several solutions on the market today. Here’s information about the SleepImage, the at-home sleep study technology that Dr. Krish has selected for her patients.

The SleepImage device is a ring that fits securely on your finger or thumb. It contains several sensors that collect a range of health data, including your pulse, blood pressure and oxygen levels.

You’ll pick up the ring from our office and take it home. Before you go to bed, you’ll need to install the SleepImage app on your iPhone or Android device, and pair the app with the ring using Bluetooth. The data captured by the ring overnight will be transmitted to the app. That data is then passed along to a board-certified sleep doctor, who will send their findings and analysis to Dr. Krish. And there’s one additional benefit: unlike a traditional polysomnography, which only captures data for a single night, you’ll wear the SleepImage ring three nights in a row. Gathering triple the amount of data will provide a much more detailed portrait of your overall sleep behavior, and provide us with much richer data to really understand what is going on with you during the night.

At this point, the advantages of the at-home sleep study should be obvious. However, it doesn’t test for symptoms for other conditions, such as heart failure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or lung disease. So if Dr. Krish encounters signs that you might be suffering from an issue not readily detectable in the sleep study ring results, she’ll send you out for a conventional sleep study in a lab. Similarly, if imaging or physical exams indicate some sort of severe air blockage, she’ll refer you to an appropriate specialist for further exams.

In short: if you’re pretty sure you’re suffering from moderate or even severe sleep apnea, look into an at-home sleep study. It’s affordable and convenient.