Healthy Living

Suffering From Alzheimer's? Sleep Apnea May Be the Cause

Suffering From Alzheimer's? Sleep Apnea May Be the Cause

The idea of the link between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s may seem a bit weird at first, but it has been a well-known fact that those who live with Alzheimer’s have sleep disturbances. The notion that there could be some kind of relationship between the Alzheimer’s and sound sleep has long intrigued researchers. Although it has remained a question like “whether or not the chicken or the egg came first” as various researchers have been questioning whether it could be Alzheimer’s that causes a lack of proper sleep, or if it's the other way around.

Recent studies seem to favor the other way, which is that sleep disturbances inevitably appear to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Both of these conditions (insomnia and Alzheimer’s) start to develop in middle-aged people, but it appears that sleep disturbances or insomnia can arise beforehand. Sleep disorders could be either one of the factors that cause Alzheimer’s or a factor that may accelerate neurodegeneration.

With a better understanding of sleep-related disorders, it is now a well-recognized fact that sleep apnea is quite common among people who are forty and above, and those suffering from obesity or metabolic syndromes. In cases of sleep apnea, the person fails to get a good night's sleep and wakes up several times during the night. Severe cases of sleep apnea are characterized by hypoxia or an inadequate flow of oxygen to the brain.

Understanding healthy sleep and sleep-apnea

Though there are several stages of sleep, the two most important of them are NREM and REM. Once a healthy individual goes to bed after maybe 10-15 minutes, he or she goes into the state of deep sleep. In this stage, the brain produces slow delta waves, body muscles are relaxed, the heart slows down, body temperature falls, and there are no eye movements at this stage, hence the name non-rapid eye movements (NREM). It is during this phase that most of the body repairs are carried out. A person during this stage is difficult to wake up.

NREM is followed by the so-called dreamy stage; it is a stage that is characterized by rapid eye movements (REM). In this phase, our brain dreams and seems to reorganize the information. During this stage, it's easier for someone to wake up, especially when it is because of their dreams.

Generally, NREM and REM would be repeated several times at night. With NREM longer in the early stages of sleep, REM is longer in the later stages of sleep as we start approaching the morning.

Sleep apnea is when a person cannot breathe regularly while sleeping. It could be either due to some other disease, obstruction, the collapse of a respiratory airway, or obesity. But if interruptions are frequent, they may reduce the quality of sleep and a person may feel tired the very next day. Sleep apnea increases the risk of many diseases, including heart diseases. Till date, very little attention has been given to sleep apnea and its relationship to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.