Sleep apnea is 80% undiagnosed and untreated, but it’s familiar enough that many people are aware of it. You may even know someone receiving treatment, or maybe you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea and are wondering if you should get tested. Sometimes, we think of sleep apnea as simply not getting enough sleep. While this is true, it’s more complicated than that. Untreated sleep apnea leads to health consequences throughout your entire body. One such consequence is dementia. If you have sleep apnea, treating it can lower your dementia risk.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep-breathing disorder where you experience pauses in breathing throughout the night. These pauses could be due to an obstruction in your airway (obstructive sleep apnea) or a neurological issue (central sleep apnea), though obstructive sleep apnea is, by far, the most common form of sleep apnea. In either case, your brain senses the lack of oxygen or excess CO2 and awakens you to resume breathing. You won’t always notice these awakenings since they are so brief, but the fragmented sleep from sleep apnea can be debilitating. You could stop breathing for ten seconds or even a minute before your brain awakens you, and it could happen hundreds of times per night, depending on the severity of your condition.
Think about the lack of oxygen you’d experience if you stopped breathing 100 times per night for a minute. You’d spend almost 21% of your eight hours “asleep,” not breathing. While that may be an extreme example, it’s a reality for some.
The lack of oxygen is an issue for your brain and body, and your fragmented sleep also doesn’t allow your body to enter into the different stages of sleep for long enough. The stages of REM and deep sleep are essential to your wellness because it’s during those stages your body restores itself for the coming day.