Sleep Apnea Affects Memory

Michele Warg
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Humans may suffer from memory problems when normal sleeping patterns are disrupted by sleep apnea. Participants in a recent study scored worse on spatial memory tests after sleeping without a breathing aid compared to nights when patients had their breathing assisted.

The study, conducted by NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, measured 18 people with sleep apnea who use a CPAP machine to help breathing during sleep. Each person spent two nights at a sleep center, each night being two weeks apart. One night, each patient used a CPAP machine. The second night, each person reduced or eliminated the machine to induce sleep apnea.

Before each patient went to bed, the person completed a video game maze. The following morning, the same maze was completed again. Patients who got a full night's rest with the CPAP machine finished the maze 30 percent faster and spent less time backtracking. Volunteers were 4 percent slower after nights with sleep apnea.

Researchers determined spatial memory is affected during sleep disruptions. This type of memory helps people remember how to get to work, where the umbrella is in the house and where the items are on grocery store shelves. When sleep is disrupted, patients have difficulty forming spatial memories.

The physical detriments of apnea such as breathing difficulties and heart problems have been well known for years. This study is one of the first to attempt to measure the cognitive problems associated with the condition as well. Memory problems may just be the beginning, as researchers assert more studies are needed.

The research did not determine whether sleep interruption or lack of oxygen from sleep apnea caused the memory loss. Lack of consistent sleep may also cause fatigue, difficulty concentrating, emotional instability, lethargy and loss of energy during the day. More consistent sleep increases productivity at work, improves overall health and quickens reaction times.

Consistent sleep patterns may be helped by several factors. Try to make your sleep space as dark as possible. Avoid distractions right before bed that make your mind more active, such as electronic devices. Do not eat late-night snacks or meals. Engage in a mild workout to relieve stress and drain some energy. Avoid hitting the snooze button in the morning by putting your alarm clock across the room and forcing your body to get up when the alarm rings. Consistent sleep helps all workers, whether they sit in front of a computer for eight hours or stand in a production line all day.

Disruption of sleep patterns causes health problems, memory loss and less productivity at work. Sleep apnea affects 18 million Americans, and these people require breathing assistance to get proper sleep. Those affected by sleep apnea are certain to experience a higher overall quality of life, better health and an increase in productivity if they get the help they need to remedy nightly sleep disruptions.


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