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Sleep Apnea May Increase the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

by | Oct 25, 2022

Sleep apnea is an increasingly common condition in which someone’s breathing stops and restarts frequently while they sleep. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of irreversible and progressive disease that destroys the brain’s cells resulting in memory loss. 

Researchers have found evidence suggesting that there is an association between sleep apnea and the markers for Alzheimer’s disease, which may show an underlying biological mechanism. Read on to learn more about the link between the two.   

What is Alzheimer’s Disease? 

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease caused by cell damage and the resulting changes in the brain. It is the most common form of dementia worldwide, accounting for 60 to 80% of all cases. Over 6 million Americans in the United States who are over the age of 65 are now affected by this disease. 

The actual cause of Alzheimer’s is believed to be the build-up of proteins known as amyloid plaque, in and around brain cells. In addition to the advancement of plaque, another Alzheimer’s characteristic is brain atrophy. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is associated with memories which diminishes in size as the disease progresses.   

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s Disease

The brain is actually very active and dependent on sleep to carry out important functions.  The idea is that sleep allows cells to regrow and repair. Sleep is a key necessity for the brain to recalibrate the cells that are responsible for learning and for memory. The recalibration allows a person to recall what they’ve learned and apply it afterward. But people who experience sleep apnea tend to have more sleepless nights, which can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 

There is research that shows identical signs of brain damage start in the same place and spread in the same way as sleep apnea, as in Alzheimer’s disease. When a person suffers from sleep apnea, they experience repeated bouts of oxygen deprivation during sleep, causing oxidative stress. This leads to the build-up of amyloid plaques.

The amyloid plaques that are toxic to the brain cells and clusters of fibers, known as neurofibrillary tangles, are the hallmark of the damage seen in Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the study also shows that the extent of the plaques correlated with the severity of sleep apnea.   

This makes people with sleep apnea more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is also possible that Alzheimer’s disease could predispose people to sleep apnea, or that there is a joint relationship between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line is that sleep is good and necessary to function better in your everyday life. Getting 7 – 9 hours of quality sleep a night is essential for your brain health and function. Plus, sleep is critical for removing harmful amyloid plaque and tau proteins. Since sleep apnea plays a role in this, it is always recommended to treat the condition as soon as possible to avoid serious, long-term health problems.

See also: What Happens if Sleep Apnea is Left Untreated?

CPAP is the most popular treatment for sleep apnea, but there are also potential health risks associated with using CPAP machines (see BiPAP, CPAP Mask Recall: What You Need to Know). So, for this reason, and for patients who cannot tolerate using a CPAP machine, a CPAP alternative would be recommended.

For people who suffer from sleep disorders, SleepWell Louisiana offers various CPAP alternatives for treatment options. 

SleepWell Louisiana is very familiar with the overall health concerns of sleep deprivation. If you think you or someone you love might be suffering from sleep apnea, snoring, or other types of sleep disorders, seek medical attention today to confirm a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. 

Sleep is vital at any age and helps to maintain your memory later in life. It is an essential part of your well-being. Therefore, sleep problems should be addressed at every family member’s healthcare visit. 

Dr. Maestri opened up SleepWell Louisiana because she is sincere about helping patients who are struggling with sleep disorders. Our highly experienced team is dedicated to providing you with the best treatment that leads to a better night’s sleep. To schedule an appointment with us, give us a call or fill out this form. If you are longing for a good night’s sleep, contact us today.