Source: The Sydney Morning Herald - May 18, 2009
Sleep apnoea sufferers who snore may be severely impairing their brain function, Australian researchers have found.
The changes in brain biochemistry linked to obstructive sleep apnoea have been compared to changes evident in people who have "had a severe stroke or who are dying", researchers at the University of NSW Brain Sciences department have found.
"It used to be thought that apnoeic snoring had absolutely no acute effects on brain function but this is plainly not true," lead author of the study Professor Caroline Rae said in a statement.
The impairment is thought to be the result of a lack of oxygen reaching the brain during extended pauses in breathing - a common characteristic of severe sleep apnoea.
Researchers studied the brains of 13 men with severe, untreated, obstructive sleep apnoea and found that even a slight lack of oxygen supply to the brain has an effect on function.
Professor Rae said it remained unknown why the lack of oxygen caused a change in brain chemistry.
"The brain could be basically resetting its bioenergetics to make itself more resistant to lack of oxygen," she said.
"It may be a compensatory mechanism to keep you alive, we just don't know. But even if it is, it's not likely to be doing you much good."
Up to one-in-four middle-aged men are affected by sleep apnoea, with about 3 per cent going on to experience a severe form of the condition characterised by extended pauses in breathing, repetitive asphyxia and sleep fragmentation.
Professor Rae said the research findings highlight the importance for people to change their attitude toward snoring.
"People look at people snoring and think it's funny. That has to stop," she said.
Children with large tonsils and adenoids have also been found to experience similar chemical imbalances in the brain due to lack of oxygen and may be exposed to the same impairments.