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Not Sleeping Well? You Could Be Setting Yourself Up for Cognitive Impairment in Old Age

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Sleep is so important to our brains.  A good night’s sleep helps us build new memories, frees us up to learn new things and process new information, and gives us the focus and emotional control we need to navigate our lives.  When we have untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) we deprive our brains of the benefits of sleep, sometimes for years at a time. As we age, those lost opportunities can add up, and cause big problems.

A Dangerous Feedback Loop

Researchers in Canada screened a group of patients with cognitive impairment for OSA and found that more than 50% of them had the disease, even when they weren’t overweight.  This is 3-5 times the rate that researchers would expect to find in the general population.  

 Also, the patients with more severe OSA were more cognitively impaired and scored lower on tests designed to measure cognitive ability.   The group with OSA also got less sleep, took longer to fall asleep, woke up more, and had less efficient sleep. OSA seriously impacted their brains' ability to do the work of sleep, which in turn impacted their cognitive abilities.

As patients become more cognitively impaired, the damage to their brain also affects the quality of sleep, so many elderly Americans can end up in a feedback loop.  They can't get good sleep, so their brains can't heal, and the damage to their brains causes them to miss out on good sleep.

What You Can Do

None of us want to end up with cognitive impairment, and we also don’t want to see our parents or other loved ones suffer from age-related cognitive declines.   It’s harder to undo damage than to prevent it.  Get your parents, spouse, and children screened for OSA.  Get screened yourself! There are treatments for sleep breathing problems so that you can live a longer, healthier life.

Would you like to learn more about sleep, sleep breathing, and the impacts that sleep disorders can have on your health?  Dr. Dassani’s new book, Airway is Life: Waking Up to Your Family’s Sleep Crisis is available now at