Although more research needs to be completed, a study out of the University of Chicago in conjunction with researchers at the University of California Los Angeles investigated the effect of sleep apnea on the brains of 16 children with obstructive sleep apnea – where the muscles in the throat relax and obstruct airways, causing breathing pauses during sleep.
The children, aged seven to 11, were evaluated at the University of Chicago’s pediatric sleep laboratory, underwent neurocognitive tests and had an MRI. Those results were compared with nine children without sleep apnea. All children were matched for gender, age, weight and ethnicity and data was compared with 191 MRI scans of children with sleep apnea from the National Institutes of Health database.
The study found that children with sleep apnea had substantial reductions in information processing part (gray matter) of the brain. Losses appeared in the frontal cortex (problem-solving, movement, language, memory, impulse control and judgment), prefrontal cortex (behavior, personality and planning), parietal cortex (sensory input), temporal lobe (hearing and selective listening) and brainstem (respiratory and cardiovascular).
While the study confirms a loss of gray matter, it could not determine the impact of the deficit. Additional research needs to be done, but the study was published in the Scientific Reports journal. Read more information here.