A preliminary study found that those with sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder characterized by frequent stops and starts in breathing, are more likely to experience memory or cognitive issues.

The study does not suggest that sleep apnea causes cognitive decline; rather, it merely illustrates an association. It will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 76th Annual Meeting in April.

People with sleep apnea frequently pause their breathing while they are asleep, snort, and gasp. Blood oxygen levels are lowered as a result, potentially fatalizing the illness.

Researchers found that individuals with the disorder are more likely to experience morning headaches or difficulty focusing on tasks.

“Sleep apnoea is a common disorder that is often underdiagnosed, yet treatments are available,” said Dominique Low, of Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts, US.

“Our study found participants who had sleep apnea symptoms had greater odds of having memory or thinking problems,” he added.

Approximately, 4,257 participants in the study answered questionnaires about their sleep patterns, memory, and cognitive issues.

In contrast to 628 people, or 20% of those without the symptoms, 357 people, or 33%, reported memory or thinking issues, even though 1,079 people reported symptoms like snorting, gasping, or breathing pauses during sleep.

Furthermore, compared to those without the symptoms, the team discovered that those with the symptoms had a roughly 50% higher likelihood of also reporting memory or thinking issues.

“These findings highlight the importance of early screening for sleep apnea,” said Low. “Effective treatments like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are readily available. Quality sleep, along with eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, social engagement and cognitive stimulation, may ultimately reduce a person’s risk of thinking and memory problems, improving their quality of life.”

The study’s limitations were also noted by the researchers, who noted that participants self-reported their symptoms rather than having their conditions evaluated by medical professionals and that the data came from a single survey.

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