Sleep Apnea is a much more serious health issue that has major effects on metabolic health and brain function.
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat intermittently relax and block the airway. This causes snoring and a pause in breathing. The frequency of sleep apnea increases with age, obesity, alcohol use, male gender, cigarette smoking, hypertension, and diabetes.
Sleep disorders do more than make one feel tired the next day.
Studies show that when oxygen levels decrease, our brain takes a big hit—executive function declines, as well as our deductive reasoning skills. Brain imaging shows decreased volume in a part of the brain called the hippocampus and reduces gray matter. This can lead to hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and oxidative stress. People with sleep apnea are also at greater risk for mood disorders such as depression and neurocognitive disorders like dementia. Attention, memory, and learning skills are also decreased.
A sleep study is necessary for diagnosing sleep apnea, and treatment often involves wearing a mask that delivers positive pressure to keep the airway open.
Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, reducing alcohol consumption, and regular exercise will go a long way toward preventing and reversing this condition.