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How Sleep Apnea Increases Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Woman sleeping

We have always known that cognitive decline was associated with sleep and oxygen deficiency. New research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London shows a direct link between interrupted sleep from conditions like sleep apnea and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.


Previous research from Wheaton College in Illinois has proven that sleep disorders including sleep apnea increase a patient’s risk of dementia. The risk can be eliminated by the introduction of a mouthpiece or CPAP machine to render the airway unobstructed and the oxygen flow to the brain uninterrupted during sleep.

There are three different types of sleep apnea:

• Obstructive Sleep Apnea – The common kind caused by throat muscle relaxation.
• Central Sleep Apnea – A rarer kind caused by improper signaling from the brain to the muscles.
• Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome – The kind caused by both Central and Obstructive sleep apnea.

Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association show that sleep apnea occurs in 1 out of 5 women and 1 in 3 men. This staggering statistic shows the prevalent risk for degenerative disease in the American population. Victims of sleep apnea can wake as many as 60 times during a single night.

Studies show that sleep apnea increases beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. This defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease results, in the case of sleep apnea, from the brain’s inability to clear deposits of amyloid plaque during the deepest portion of the sleep cycle which sufferers from sleep apnea do not experience.

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According to Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

• Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea
• Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
• Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
• Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
• Morning headache
• Difficulty staying asleep
• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Attention problems
• Irritability

You do not have to be obese or unhealthy to experience sleep apnea. This silent killer stalks the strong and the athletic too as W. Christopher Winter, MD, attests. “There are athletes everywhere who have sleep apnea. Not only does the apnea affect their athletic performance, but it is extremely hard on their cardiovascular systems as well. Athletes’ hearts are pushed by their sport during the day and by their sleep apnea at night. A time for rest and recovery now becomes a time that puts their health in peril.”

In 2003, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 14% of NFL players, including 34 percent of players at high risk for sleep-disordered breathing, have the condition. Sleep apnea was a factor in the death of renowned Hall of Famer, Reggie White, who died prematurely at only 43 years of age.

In conclusion, if you experience any of the symptoms of sleep apnea or are extremely exhausted during the day, you may want to be tested for sleep apnea. The damage to your quality of life, health, and overall wellbeing are just too great a risk to take. As the rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease continue to skyrocket, perhaps the elimination of sleep apnea as a possible risk is a valuable preventative measure we can take.

Check out these other great articles by EMaxHealth: Why Sleeping Without Breathing Is Bad For Your Health, 5 Sleep Secrets to Improve Sleep Habits and Efficiency, and Why This Sleep Study Tip Helps High Achievers To Fall Asleep Faster.