anatomy of human brain

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Memory Loss?

The long-term health impact of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may be more damaging than once thought. We already know that untreated sleep apnea is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and depression, to name a few. However, new research suggests that untreated sleep apnea may cause significant deficits in the cerebral cortex, or gray matter, where most brain activity takes place.1

What is Gray Matter?

Gray matter refers to unmyelinated neurons and other cells of the central nervous system. It is present in the brain, brainstem, cerebellulm and throughout the spinal cord. In particular, gray matter is present in regions of the brain involved in muscle control and sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control. In short, gray matter is vital to daily mental functions.

How Reduced Gray Matter Affects Health?

The progressive loss of gray matter may lead to poor memory, emotional problems, diminished cognitive abilities, and also even cardiovascular disruptions. For patients with sleep apnea, the diminished mental capacity adds on to known comorbidities including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. As a result, sleep apnea can now be viewed as a health hazard that impacts both mind and body.

Why is the Brain Affected by Sleep Apnea?

In OSA, the muscles in the back of the throat relax and ultimately narrow or collapse the airway. This results in periods of interrupted breathing or an apnea. Repetitive apneas result in reduced oxygen to the brain, which causes grey matter to decay. Because the process is gradual, a person with sleep apnea may not immediately notice the diminished mental symptoms. Cognitive shortcomings are easily blamed on other factors, such as stress or age.

Getting Diagnosed for Sleep Apnea

If you have not been diagnosed with sleep apnea but believe you have a sleep disorder, here are some signs to recognize:

  • Loud snoring
  • Occasionally waking up gasping for air or choking
  • Excessively tired during the day
  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Moodiness, forgetfulness, or difficulty concentrating

With proper diagnosis, you can begin successfully treating your sleep apnea. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, take this free 1-minute sleep assessment to find out if you are at risk.

Best Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when breathing abruptly stops and starts due to the closing of the airway as you sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This device delivers a steady stream of pressurized air flow to keep the upper airway open throughout the night, thus preventing apneas. CPAP therapy is unobtrusive and effective and is considered the gold standard for treating OSA.

Innovations in CPAP machines include smaller, compact and powerful designs with small bedside footprints. CPAP masks are now lightweight and comfortable, featuring an open field of vision, magnetic clips, and innovative designs for freedom of movement. And with a sleep coach, exclusively available at The CPAP Shop, getting started on a lifetime of better sleep is only a click away.

The Best CPAP Machines for Treatment

You can find CPAP machines, masks, and also accessories to treat sleep apnea at The CPAP Shop. Our customer care team is here to answer your questions and offer advice on what equipment best suits your individual needs. Give us a call 866.414.9700 or email us at


  1. Joo EY, Tae WS, Lee J, et all. Reduced brain gray matter concentration in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Sleep. 2010 Feb 1:33(2):235-241.