Memory Health: Alzheimer's Support Group

Sleep Apnea & Memory Loss

Sleep is a vital biological function for humans – we spend about 30% of our lives sleeping.

Good sleep is important for memory consolidation (processing newly learned information). It’s also important for clearing out metabolic debris from the brain each day — including amyloid beta protein, one of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep apnea and other sleep disordered breathing problems can cause early cognitive impairment, especially for adults over the age of 50.

Disordered breathing can cause one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. These breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Breathing pauses may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

One of the direct results of sleep apnea is hypoxia – a lack of oxygen supply to surrounding tissues, including the heart and brain. Sleep apnea related hypoxia can bring accelerate the risk of cognitive impairment by more than a decade, according to ongoing research published in the journal Neurology.

Tips to Stop Sleep Apnea

1. Take the extra weight off. Being significantly overweight or obese is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes – all bad news for brain health and heart health. Follow the MIND diet to achieve a healthier brain and heart:

2. Investigate Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT). OMT is a structured method to train the muscles in your neck and throat for better breathing at night when sleeping (and also during the day). See the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy website for more information.

3. Consider CPAP if Tips 1&2 don’t solve your sleep apnea. While CPAP can be effective, there are serious drawbacks to the device, such as low compliance rates among users, along with risks for nosebleeds, stomach discomfort, and claustrophobia.

1 Reply

I would suggest that before doing ANY of the steps above, get yourself tested. Knowing the type and severity of your apnea (if you have it at all) can and will impact the type of treatment applied. You can take an aspirin for the rest of your life and never clear up that acne or constipation. By the same token if your apneas are more central than obstructive, the CPAP and related things are worse than useless. Plus if your apneas are central you want real medical help pronto.

But here is a question Chris: if sleep deprivation over extended periods of time can cause or accelerate dementia, what about a profession where the SOP is 60-80 weeks, sleep deprivation, stress on olympic levels and more. Being an engineer in Silicon Valley was swimming with the sharks and if you stopped swimming, you died. But I know for fact my job has pushed me way past my physical and mental limits many times over the years. Sometimes I think this didn't help. As any long-time engineer will tell you, when need-be you go into what I call "hacker mode" where nothing is important but the success of the mission and so pain, hunger, lack of sleep, etc are all ignored for days and sometimes weeks at a time.

I was good at what I did but sometimes I wonder if I did this to myself somehow.