Sleep apnea takes a toll on brain function

UCLA Health System, 02/15/2016

One in 15 adults has moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which a person’s breathing is frequently interrupted during sleep – as many as 30 times per hour. People with sleep apnea also often report problems with thinking such as poor concentration, difficulty with memory and decision–making, depression, and stress. According to new research from the UCLA School of Nursing, published online in the Journal of Sleep Research, people with sleep apnea show significant changes in the levels of two important brain chemicals, which could be a reason that many have symptoms that impact their day–to–day lives. UCLA researchers looked at levels of these neurotransmitters – glutamate and gamma–aminobutyric acid, known as GABA – in a brain region called the insula, which integrates signals from higher brain regions to regulate emotion, thinking and physical functions such as blood pressure and perspiration. They found that people with sleep apnea had decreased levels of GABA and unusually high levels of glutamate.

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