This research involved 140 people with obstructive sleep apnea and primarily focused on biomarkers related to the health of the brain’s white matter.
Participants with severe sleep apnea displayed a higher volume of white matter hyperintensities (small lesions visible on brain scans) and reduced axonal integrity.
The study looked at sleep factors and biomarkers of the health of the brain’s white matter.
The biomarkers measure how well the brain’s white matter is preserved, which is important to connect different parts of the brain.
One of the biomarkers, white matter hyperintensities, are tiny lesions visible on brain scans. White matter hyperintensities become more common with age or with uncontrolled high blood pressure. The other biomarker measures the integrity of the axons, which form the nerve fibers that connect nerve cells.
“Finding that severe sleep apnea and a reduction in slow-wave sleep are associated with these biomarkers is important since there is no treatment for these changes in the brain, so we need to find ways to prevent them from happening or getting worse.”
The study stresses that sleep disturbances are not definitively the cause of these brain changes, but the correlation warrants further investigation. The ultimate goal is to identify prevention strategies or treatments to halt or slow these detrimental changes in the brain. Knowing that severe sleep apnea and reduced slow-wave sleep are associated with these biomarkers is important, as there is no treatment for these changes in the brain, so it is necessary to find ways to prevent them from occurring or worsening.
The researchers found that for every 10-point decrease in the percentage of slow-wave sleep, there was an increase in the amount of white matter hyperintensities similar to the effect of being 2.3 years older.
People with severe sleep apnea had a higher volume of white matter hyperintensities than those with mild or moderate sleep apnea. They also had reduced axonal integrity in the brain.