New Study Finds Obstructive Sleep Apnea May Prevent Memory Formation
If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, also called OPA, and you feel like your memory isn’t what it used to be, there may be a correlation between the two, according to a new study.
Did you know that obstructive sleep apnea affects an estimated 18 million adults in the US? New research suggests that there’s a connection between how your brain stores autobiographical memories and OSA.
OSA may impair your mind’s ability to form memories about things you experience in everyday life. Due to the nature of this medical condition, sufferers usually have impacted sleep patterns. This is because OSA sometimes causes them to awake or to regain partial consciousness while they are sleeping, depriving the brain of REM (rapid eye movement) and proper rest.
The result of OSA is that it combines with lack of sleep and reduced REM periods as well as oxygen deprivation, resulting in not only memory problems, as this new study suggests, but also other issues like depression, mood disorders and even cardiovascular issues.
While newer research on OSA is focused on depression, a known cause of sleep apnea, with prior studies finding that sufferers with OSA are more likely to experience depression, it also find that memories may also be affected, too.
The new study, which was led by Melinda Jackson, a senior research fellow at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University in Melbourne, Australia, examines how OSA and autobiographical memory are linked and if the two are connected. The preliminary findings all point to yes.
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An Overview of Autobiographical Memory
Autobiographical memory is the method that the brain uses to store information. This can be everything from daily interactions to vacations (good memories), bad memories, puzzles, to-do lists and more. Scientists have already linked impairment of autobiographical memory to depression, but now it’s also looking like there’s a link between it and OSA as well.
“We know that overly general autobiographical memories — where people don’t remember many specific details of life events — are associated with the development of persistent depression,” Dr. Jackson explained. “Sleep apnea is also a significant risk factor for depression, so if we can better understand the neurobiological mechanisms at work, we have a chance to improve the mental health of millions of people.”
How the Study Reached Its Conclusion
For the study, Dr. Jackson oversaw 44 adults who had been diagnosed with and were suffering from OSA but were not seeking a form of treatment. She then created a group of 44 adults that did not suffer from OSA to create a control group. The study specifically focused on autobiographical memory, ranging from recent events all the way back to childhood events.
The study found that those who suffer from OSA had more vague memories, also called “overgeneral” memories, which are remembered by the brain but devoid of the specifics, like the color shirt you wore on the beach during a vacation five years ago, or a childhood friend’s name from elementary school.
The study found that about 52% of those suffering from OSA had primarily overgeneral memories, as compared to just 19% of those in the control group that did.
The study also compared semantic and episodic memory, both important in the brain’s ability to recall detailed facts and broad events, commonly characterized as “episodes” for the sake of science. The study also concluded that the semantic memory of OSA suffers was impacted by their condition, concluding that OSA has a definitive correlation between past memories and new memories the brain creates and how it stores the information for recollection at a later time.
“Our study suggests sleep apnea may impair the brain’s capacity to either encode or consolidate certain types of life memories, which makes it hard for people to recall details from the past,” Dr. Jackson said. “Brain scans of people with sleep apnea show they have a significant loss of grey matter from regions that overlap with the autobiographical memory network.
As a senior research fellow at RMIT’s School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, Jackson has expressed that she wants to add more to the study in the future.
“We need to look at whether there’s a shared neurobiological mechanism at work — that is, does the dysfunction of that network lead to both depression and memory problems in people with sleep apnea?”
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a highly treatable condition. Part of effective treatment means having the right tools on-hand before you go to bed. CPAP masks, tubes, cushions and filters can be expensive and it’s easy to forget to order more before you run out.
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