What Do Your Snores Mean?

Eight years ago, Shary Smith, a retired dog groomer from Florida, could not recall things she should have easily remembered. She was suffering from short-term memory loss; a cognitive impairment which she did not realize was linked to her excessive snoring. She researched and found out that there are studies linking snoring to short-term memory loss.

She underwent a series of sleep studies and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Her doctors advised her to use a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine during sleep. Every night, Smith wears a mask that is connected to her CPAP machine. The CPAP machine helps her breath normally by opening up her airways through positive pressure. With the help of CPAP machine, Smith no longer snores, has enough energy throughout the day, and her short-term memory loss did not worsen.   

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder which is characterized by pauses in breathing while asleep. Pauses in breathing, or apnea, are caused by narrowed or blocked air passages and malfunctioning of neurological controls responsible for respiration.  Each pause can last from 10 seconds to a few minutes and can repeat for up to 30 times in an hour. A person with sleep apnea often feels tired and sleepy throughout the day. They are also at risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and even diabetes.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder; around 12 million Americans are suffering from it. Yet, according to the American Sleep Association, as much as 80% of those suffering from sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. These people are not aware that they have this sleeping disorder because they do not know that they snore at night. Snoring happens as a person grasp for air after a pause in breathing.

Sleep apnea is more common among the elderly. Around 60% of senior adults suffer from sleep apnea. Dr. Alberto Ramos, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and co-director of UHealth Sleep Center, said that elder people’s muscles loosen as they gain weight which is a factor that can cause sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea, when left untreated, can cause serious health complications. According to Dr. Po-Heng Tsai, sleep apnea can greatly affect both brain and heart health. Several studies have already proven how sleep apnea can cause and increase a patient’s risk of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, dementia, and other cognitive impairment.

According to a 2011 study which was published in the Journal of the American Association, sleep apnea can be a contributing factor to cognitive decline leading to dementia. Low oxygen levels or hypoxemia may be the reason for cognitive decline. In the study, 298 elderly women were tested for sleeping disorders and were tracked for five years. After five years, 45% of the women who was suffering from sleeping disorders also suffered from dementia and other neurological problems. However, only 31% of elderly women without sleeping problems had cognitive impairment.

Dr. Tsai said that deep sleep is very important for cognitive functions and memory consolidations. People who suffer from lack of sleep have slow reflexes, cannot concentrate, and cannot retain information. Also, they are more irritable and have mood swings. 

To learn more about snoring and how to treat it medically, continue reading on SleepDisorders.com