Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person experiences pauses in breathing while asleep. These pauses can last anywhere from 10 seconds to up to a minute. In very severe cases, they can last even longer. Not only is the length of time the body goes without oxygen in each episode important, but also the fact that apnea episodes disrupt your sleep cycle.
Three Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is by far the most common type of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissues in your airway are partially or fully collapsed. This blockage prevents oxygen from reaching your body and brain. Once your brain senses a lack of oxygen or build-up of carbon dioxide, it panics and awakens you so you can continue breathing. You may not notice these awakenings, but they’re preventing you from getting quality sleep.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Central sleep apnea is less common than OSA, with some reports saying that less than 1% of the population experiences it. This type of sleep apnea occurs because your brain stops telling the muscles in your lungs to breathe. Typically, its caused by a medical condition, drugs, or even a consequence of CPAP treatment.
Complex Sleep Apnea: This form of sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea and is usually treatment-emergent. Meaning you develop central sleep apnea from treating your obstructive sleep apnea.
Poor Sleep and Cognitive Issues
Sleep apnea ultimately reduces the quality of your sleep. With frequent awakenings, your body can’t spend long enough in each stage of sleep to restore itself. Spending enough time in each stage is especially important for your brain. During stage one, your brain slows down. Stage two is when your body slows further, and it’s thought that your brain stores memories from the day during this stage. Stage three is when things get interesting. During stage three, your brain slows further, and everything sleeps except for a process called cerebrospinal fluid flow. This fluid bathes the brain and removes any waste created throughout the day. Stage four is known as REM sleep, and during this stage, we dream.
What does all this have to do with memory and diseases like Dementia and Alzheimers? Well, in Alzheimer’s patients, tartar and plaque build upon the brain. This build-up happens to be made of those toxic proteins or wastes that the cerebrospinal fluid is supposed to wash away during the third stage of sleep. If you aren’t spending enough time in stage three or don’t make it there at all, there could be severe neurological consequences that eventually could lead to Dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s.