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A New Reason to Lose Sleep

Could the brain be more vulnerable to apnoea if CPAP therapy is discontinued?

Could the brain be more vulnerable to apnoea if CPAP therapy is discontinued? iStockphoto

By Caroline Rae

Are people with sleep apnoea prone to brain injury from oxygen deprivation?

Caroline Rae is Professor of Brain Sciences at The University of New South Wales and is based at Neuroscience Research Australia. This work was also conducted in collaboration with the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Every night, people get into bed and go to sleep. But for some people what should be a restful and restorative time between the sheets can turn into a repetitive fight to breathe.

During sleep, the muscles in the upper airway relax, narrowing the airway. In obstructive sleep apnoea the airway relaxes too much, becoming closed and preventing the person from breathing. Hence the term obstructive sleep apnoea, meaning that the airway is obstructed, the person is asleep and is “without breath” (from the Greek “apnoea”).

In medical terms, an apnoea is defined as a period of ceased breathing that lasts for 10 seconds or more. When breathing stops, blood oxygen levels drop and are not restored until the person starts breathing again.

When an apnoea occurs, sleep is disrupted. Sometimes the person may wake up completely, but they could also rouse from a deep level of sleep into a more shallow level of sleep.

In severe obstructive sleep apnoea, sufferers can do this more than 40 times per hour! This level of sleep disruption can mean that the person is very sleepy during the day and can have difficulty concentrating or paying attention.

We know that the brain is a large user of oxygen and that disruption of oxygen supply to the brain can result in brain damage. This can occur, for example, when a person has a heart attack or a stroke, or when a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.