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A new study found that men with severe sleep apnea had a significant reduction in white matter.

One year of CPAP therapy led to an almost complete reversal of this brain damage.

Treatment also improved cognitive scores, mood, alertness and quality of life.

The Healthy Sleep Project is sounding the alarm that snoring is a warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea.

Pledge to stop the snore and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea reverses brain damage

Filed in
  • CDC Healthy Sleep

Thomas M. Heffron  |  Sep 08, 2014
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Sleep apnea causes brain damage

Obstructive sleep apnea can be destructive to your brain. But new research shows that CPAP therapy repairs the damage.

What is obstructive sleep apnea? OSA is a chronic disease that involves repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep. These breathing pauses can prevent your body from supplying enough oxygen to the brain.

In severe cases this lack of oxygen can lead to brain damage. Signs of this damage include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and moodiness.

The new study involved 17 men with severe, untreated sleep apnea. Brain scans showed that they had a significant reduction in white matter – “the subway of the brain.” The men with severe sleep apnea also showed signs of impaired thinking, mood and alertness.

Each member of the study group was treated with CPAP therapy for 12 months. CPAP provides gently pressurized air through a mask that you wear during sleep. The airflow keeps your airway open and makes it easier to breathe.

Results show that one year of CPAP therapy led to an almost complete reversal of white matter damage. Treatment also improved cognitive scores, mood, alertness and quality of life.

In a previous study the authors found that severe sleep apnea also causes damage to gray matter in the brain. Three months of CPAP therapy helped repair this damage too.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is a destructive disease that can ruin your health and increase your risk of death,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. He is a spokesperson for the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. “Treatment of sleep apnea can be life-changing and potentially life-saving.”

The Healthy Sleep Project is sounding the alarm that snoring is a warning sign for obstructive sleep apnea. The rattling, vibrating sound is more than just an annoyance. It is an indicator that air is not flowing freely through the airway.

Silent breathing pauses that can last up to 30 seconds are another warning sign for sleep apnea. Sometimes these pauses persist for one minute or longer. These breathing pauses often end with a choking or gasping sound. Daytime sleepiness or fatigue often result from this cycle of sleep disruption.

Sleep apnea is common in people who are obese. It also occurs frequently in people who have high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes.

Is sleep apnea putting your health at risk? Pledge to stop the snore and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. It will be the start of a new day for your health and well-being!


  1. 1 KAY PEARL 17 Jun
    I've recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea and will be going in for titration in a few days. For about two weeks I'm experiencing a feeling of fainting in my sleep that makes me numb , lethargic and extremely light headed. I immediately wake up. I'm worried this may be something other than sleep apnea related. I've talked to my Dr's MA and they think it's anxiety. Does this sound familiar??
  2. 2 Kaye 26 May
    My husband is going to have a sleep study soon to determine if he has a sleep disorder. We have struggled for years to find the cause of his “episodes”. He of course is very fatigued but then it turns into a dilerious state. He “jokes” and is very affirmative and insulting. He seems almost high, no he doesn’t do drugs. He won’t stop what eve activity he is doing no matter how long it takes.  At some point he goes to sleep and can’t be woken up for a long period of time. If he does wake up before he is rested he talks out of his head and has no memory. Does this sound familiar? I’m hoping to get answers soon.

  3. 3 Leah 03 May
    Not having my CPAP for over two years has caused my body to become sleep deprived and ultimately for the past year and a half I’ve slept maybe an hour a night. My recent sleep study showed I stopped breathing 50 times per hour. I have literally felt as if I am going crazy. I finally got the right equipment but now the episodes are happening even while I am awake. It looks like a mini seizure. After many brain scans and blood work and an EEG it was determined that I have hypoxemia due to the lack of oxygen to my brain over the past two years. I already had severe sleep apnea, this study show 50 hypopneas per hour ...this is all new to me. But feeling hopeless is not my character and not only have I scared my husband with my erratic mood swings ...I’m beginning to scare my own self bc even with the machine I can only sleep 3 hours. Is there a more intensive therapy that could help repair the white matter and get the iloxygen to my brain quicker so that I can feel like my normal self.... anybody know?
  4. 4 Joy 21 Nov
    I have severe sleep apnea, and I feel my memory is getting worse day by day.  I know my brain is severely oxygen deprived as I have 60 apneas per hour, which means every minute I'm sleeping I stop breathing for AT LEAST 10 seconds, maybe more.  I'm sleepy most of the day.  I have tried CPAP, BIPAP and multiple masks (nasal, full-face, etc) and NOTHING works for me.  ALL the masks leak, which wakes me up enough to take the mask off only, then I wake up with no mask on and don't remember taking it off.  

    I have been trying to get a doctor to just prescribe nighttime oxygen for me, but they say it can cause my apneas to last longer.  I can't get my insurance company to pay for another sleep study that would show whether MY particular sleep apnea would have that problem from supplemental oxygen.  I have no other plan, so yesterday I ordered some oxygen drops for water, in hopes that it will help my brain to get more oxygen. My current oxygen level is 87 at 10:20am.  My sleep study showed that, during my apneas, my oxygen level drops to 72.  Why can't I get any help???
  5. 5 Ahmed 14 Apr
    How long after you see real improvements of brain function after MMA surgery? It's been 4 months and I don't see any difference in terms of my brain function.  I still have many issues including mood disorder, panic attack, anxiety, depression, memory loss etc.
  6. 6 R. Waters 22 May
    I had encephalopathy due to sleep apnea.  I never even knew I had sleep apnea.  For the past 6 years I have been so sick, in and out of hospitals, chronic infections, etc.
    I was sent for a sleep study 6 months ago which showed that I had very severe sleep apnea...I was waking up 120 times an hour (2 times a minute.)  Since I got my CPAP about 4 months ago I am a new person.  Virtually no physical problems.  I still can't believe it.  Now I'm waiting to see if my cognitive abilities (which are the pits) will get better...
  7. 7 Clare 01 Feb
    This is such encouraging news for me.Very recently I was told I had poor cognitive powers and was diagnosed with  Dementia and Altzimers .I have had a long period of Sleep Apnea well over a few years which I did not know about until 6-7months ago.I was so tired all the time but never thought it might be the cause.I finally had a sleep study which showed a very severe case and I was put on CPAP immediately.I am now so much better than 2 years ago and hope that I will have the results you show.
  8. 8 B. Perry 07 Jan
    Many health problems because of sleep apnea.  I, according to recent sleep study, stop breathing 39 times per hour.  Consequently, have not slept in years.  Health has declined to the point that I can no longer work.  Waiting on B-pap