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Can Sleep Apnea Treatment Help People with Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline?

June 28, 2022 | |

Recent studies have shown that treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can help improve memory in older patients experiencing cognitive decline due to dementia.1 While sleep loss is one of the symptoms of dementia in some patients, the increasing decline of brain health from sleep deprivation may worsen the symptoms of dementia, creating a viscous cycle that accelerates overall cognitive degradation.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep. When throat muscles overrelax during sleep they close up the airway and cause the disrupted breathing. This frequent disruption of natural sleep can affect your health both mentally and physically.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Memory

The regular interruption of healthy sleep from sleep apnea episodes leaves many patients drowsy during the day because they have not sleep well at night. This on-going experience of sleep deprivation begins to impact brain health. Cognitive functions such as concentration and memory are the first to be compromised. There is increasing recognition of the important role sleep plays in our brain health. Growing evidence suggests disturbed sleep may increase the risk of developing dementia.

Does Sleep Apnea Increase the Risk of Dementia?

While there is no treatment or cure for dementia, researchers strive to develop other methods for slowing the effects of dementia on patients.  Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia.

In mild cognitive impairment, the individual, family, and friends notice cognitive changes, but the individual can still successfully carry out everyday activities. Mild cognitive impairment is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia in subsequent years.

Researchers believe this is the optimal time to intervene to help prevent a future dementia diagnosis. Finding new ways to slow cognitive decline in those with mild cognitive impairment is therefore important.

Why is Sleep So Important for Brain Health?

Sleep helps our brains effectively store learned information and memories. These processes can occur across all the different stages of sleep, with deep sleep (also known as stage 3 or restorative sleep) playing a key role. Sleep loss reduces the brain’s ability to store memory.

The glymphatic system, or the waste management system of the brain, is highly active during sleep, especially during deep sleep. This process allows waste products, including toxins, our brain has built up during the day to be cleaned out. Sleep loss allows a buildup of these waste products which can begin to cloud healthy cognitive function.

How Does Sleep Apnea Treatment Help Memory?

Sleep apnea treatment prevents the frequent episodes that interrupt healthy sleep. By helping improve consistent and healthy sleep patterns, sleep apnea treatment allows the brain to effectively begin storing new memory and eliminating toxic waste products that can affect cognitive performance.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

The most common sleep apnea treatment uses PAP (positive air way pressure) to reduce the frequency of sleep apnea episodes at night. A CPAP machine flows pressurized air through a tube and into the mask of the patient as they sleep. The constant air pressure keeps the airway open and prevents the disruptive events that cause sleep apnea episodes and interrupt healthy sleep.

CPAP machines offer varied features that help patients practice CPAP more comfortably.

How To Get Tested for Sleep Apnea

Speak to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea. In-lab sleep studies are one way to test for sleep apnea. In-lab studies require an overnight stay in a sleep lab to be evaluated. For convenience, you can also take a sleep apnea test at home. Sleep Care Online offers at-home sleep tests that deliver the same accurate results as in-lab tests, but in the comfort of your own home.

If you are new to CPAP therapy and would like assistance ordering a machine, mask, or other products, our team at The CPAP Shop would be happy to help! Give us a call at 866-414-9700 today.


  1. Hoyos, Camilla. Neuroscience New. Treating Sleep Apnea Can Improve Memory in People With Cognitive Decline. May 22