You know how it goes. You have a bad night's sleep, tossing and turning, fretting about this-or-that, and the next day you're a wreck. You can't think, you can't work and your memory is shot. The good news is that you'll recover after a good night's rest. But, what if every night was a constant cycle of tossing and turning?
Well, that's exactly how it is for people with sleep apnea. They toss and turn all night, every night, as their airway closes and they fight for air. Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles of the throat and soft palate relax, and the tongue slides to the back of the throat, cutting off the airway. This causes the sleeper to awake, gasping for air, and can occur hundreds of times each night.
Sleep apnea is known to be associated with loud snoring outbursts at night and chronic daytime fatigue. But researchers now find it's also associated with memory loss - permanent memory loss.
"Our findings demonstrate that impaired breathing during sleep can lead to a serious brain injury that disrupts memory and thinking," said principal investigator Ronald Harper, a distinguished professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The researchers point to structures within the brain known as mammillary bodies. Resembling small breasts, these structures are found on the underside of the brain. The scientists hypothesize these mammillary structures are damaged due to the lack of oxygen that occurs during sleep apnea.
"The findings are important because patients suffering memory loss from other syndromes, such as alcoholism or Alzheimer disease, also show shrunken mammillary bodies," said lead author Rajesh Kumar, a UCLA assistant researcher in neurobiology.
What's the bottom line? Sleep apnea is serious stuff - get treated right away. It will not only help with your memory, but it will let what's-her-name get a better night sleep.To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about dealing with sleep apnea, see this from the American Sleep Apnea Association.