Important Facts About Sleep Apnea Everyone Should Know

In recent years, sleep disturbances are much more common than they’ve ever been. The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Getting sound and consistent sleep can be the difference in a sound mind and body for a myriad of reasons. One of the most common issues that some experience with sleep is a condition called sleep apnea. It is said that nearly 18 million individuals are suffering with apnea, which compromises the ability to breathe correctly due to an obstruction while they are sleeping.

While some people think that sleep apnea simply means loud snoring, it actually means much more than that. There are repeated interruptions in the pattern of breathing which can be potentially very dangerous. Listed below are different facts regarding sleep apnea that aren’t very well known.

Raises Risks For Serious Health Concerns

There are substantial risks associated with sleep apnea that some don’t realize. It’s so much more than potentially disrupting your partner’s sleep with loud snores – namely the risk for things like high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and obesity. Any type of interruption to your breathing while your body is at complete rest can be compromising to your health and internal nervous system. This also speaks to the necessity of breathing properly even when you are awake. When the brain and body is deprived of oxygen, there are so many potential issues that can arise.

Compromises Your Mood And Emotions

When you suffer from sleep apnea, not only is your brain potentially more exhausted because of those patterns of breathing that are compromised, but it affects on a huge level how you react when you are going about your day. Lack of good, sound sleep can contribute to poor mood and even extreme emotions. When you’re tired, it’s hard to regulate normal experiences that you’d be better suited to deal with when you have had the proper amount of sleep. You may become overly reactive to something that you wouldn’t otherwise simply from sheer fatigue and exhaustion.

Damages Stored Memories

Poor memory and loss of memory can be caused by a whole plethora of things – one of which is sleep apnea. Much in the way it can affect emotions and moods, lack of sleep and the way that it compromises the brain can negatively impact the memory sensors in the brain. The brain requires a certain amount of oxygen to function at its best, and when that oxygen supply is cut off for a period of time, the ability to recall memories can be lessened.

Affects More Women Than Men

For some reason, though both genders can suffer from this issue, those who are most impacted by the condition are generally women. They are also more susceptible to the side effects and additional contributing factors of sleep apnea.

This condition is also not something that only affects adults. Children can be affected by and suffer from sleep apnea as well. This is why necessary testing and a variety of treatments need to be offered to sufferers as going to sleep in such a risky situation isn’t something that should be taken lightly.

Insomnia, Sleep Loss And Deep Sleep In The News

One of the things sleep loss increases is the risk of obesity through a combination of effects on energy metabolism. Research presented recently at the European Congress of Endocrinology highlights how disrupted sleep patterns – a common feature of modern living – can predispose to weight gain by affecting your appetite and responses to food and exercise.

While several studies have correlated sleep deprivation with weight gain, the underlying cause of increased obesity risk from sleep disruption is unclear, but may relate to changes in appetite, metabolism, motivation, physical activity or a combination of factors. Dr. Christian Benedict from Uppsala University, Sweden and his group have conducted a number of human studies to investigate how sleep loss may affect energy metabolism.

These human studies have measured and imaged behavioral, physiological and biochemical responses to food following acute sleep deprivation. The behavioral data reveal that metabolically healthy, sleep-deprived human subjects prefer larger food portions, seek more calories, exhibit signs of increased food-related impulsivity, experience more pleasure from food, and expend less energy.

Sleep Loss And Weight Gain

The group’s physiological studies indicate that sleep loss shifts the hormonal balance from hormones that promote fullness, such as GLP-1, to those that promote hunger, such as ghrelin. Sleep restriction also increased levels of endocannabinoids, which is known to have appetite-promoting effects. Acute sleep loss also alters the balance of gut bacteria, which has been widely implicated as key for maintaining a healthy metabolism. The same study also found reduced sensitivity to insulin after sleep loss.

“Since perturbed sleep is such a common feature of modern life, these studies show it is no surprise that metabolic disorders such as obesity are also on the rise,” Benedict says. “My studies suggest that sleep loss favors weight gain in humans. It may also be concluded that improving sleep could be a promising lifestyle intervention to reduce the risk of future weight gain.”

Although this work has shed light on how short periods of sleep loss can affect energy metabolism, longer-term studies are needed to validate these findings. The group is now investigating longer-term effects and also whether extending sleep in habitual short sleepers can restore these alterations in appetite and energy metabolism.

Exercise, Sleep Key To Regulating Behavior

Another recent study, published in 2017 in the Journal of Applied Psychology, tracked participants’ sleep patterns and daytime physical movements. It found employees who recorded an average of more than 10,900 steps each day were less likely to perpetuate abuse at home than those recording fewer than 7,000.

“Research shows employees who are mistreated at work are likely to engage in similar behaviors at home,” said University of Central Florida’s College of Business management professor Shannon Taylor, who teamed up with researchers from Illinois and Wisconsin for the study. “If they’ve been belittled or insulted by a supervisor, they tend to vent their frustration on members of their household. Our study shows that happens because they’re too tired to regulate their behavior.”

Study participants included 118 MBA students with full-time jobs who took a survey and then wore activity monitors for a week. A follow-up survey was then sent to the participants’ cohabitants. The study concludes sleep and exercise are intervention points that can be leveraged to prevent the spread of harmful behavior.

The study found that burning an additional 587 calories can reduce the harmful effects of mistreatment and help prevent it from carrying into the home. For the average American man, these gains can be achieved with an hour of swimming or a brisk 90-minute walk. “The findings are particularly compelling given recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association to walk between 8,000 and 10,000 steps per day,” Taylor said.

Insomnia Genes

In June 2017, an international team of researchers found – for the first time – seven risk genes for insomnia. The results of the research were published in Nature Genetics. With this finding the researchers have taken an important step towards the unraveling of the biological mechanisms that cause insomnia. In addition, the finding proves that insomnia is not, as is often claimed, a purely psychological condition.

Insomnia is probably the most common health complaint. Even after treatment, poor sleep remains a persistent vulnerability for many people. By having determined the risk genes, professors and lead researchers Danielle Posthuma and Eus Van Someren have come closer to unraveling the biological mechanisms that cause the predisposition for insomnia. Van Someren believes that the findings are the start of a path towards an understanding of insomnia at the level of communication within and between neurons, and thus towards finding new ways of treatment.

He also hopes that the findings will help with the recognition of insomnia. “As compared to the severity, prevalence and risks of insomnia, only few studies targeted its causes. Insomnia is all too often dismissed as being ‘all in your head.’ Our research brings a new perspective. Insomnia is also in the genes.”

In a sample of 113,006 individuals, the researchers found seven genes for insomnia. These genes play a role in the regulation of transcription, the process where DNA is read in order to make an RNA copy of it, and exocytosis, the release of molecules by cells in order to communicate with their environment. One of the identified genes, MEIS1, has previously been related to two other sleep disorders: Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS) and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).

By collaborating with Konrad Oexle and colleagues from the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum, München, Germany, the researchers could conclude that the genetic variants in the gene seem to contribute to all three disorders. PLMS and RLS are characterized by restless movement and sensation, respectively, whereas insomnia is characterized mainly by a restless stream of consciousness.

Genetic Overlap With Other Characteristics

The researchers also found a strong genetic overlap with other traits, such as anxiety disorders, depression and neuroticism, and low subjective wellbeing. “This is an interesting finding, because these characteristics tend to go hand in hand with insomnia. We now know that this is partly due to the shared genetic basis,” says neuroscientist Anke Hammerschlag, first author of the study.

The researchers also studied whether the same genetic variants were important for men and women. “Part of the genetic variants turned out to be different. This suggests that, for some part, different biological mechanisms may lead to insomnia in men and women,” says professor Posthuma. “We also found a difference between men and women in terms of prevalence: in the sample we studied, including mainly people older than 50 years, 33% of the women reported to suffer from insomnia. For men this was 24%.”

The risk genes could be tracked down in cohorts with the DNA and diagnoses of many thousands of people. The UK Biobank – a large cohort from England that has DNA available – did not have information as such about the diagnosis of insomnia, but they had asked their participants whether they found it difficult to fall asleep or to have uninterrupted sleep. By making good use of information from the Dutch Sleep Registry, the UK Biobank was able, for the first time, to determine which of them met the insomnia profile. Linking the knowledge from these two cohorts is what made the difference.

Deep Sleep A Fountain Of Youth?

As we grow old, our nights are frequently plagued by bouts of wakefulness, bathroom trips and other nuisances as we lose our ability to generate the deep, restorative slumber we enjoyed in youth. But does that mean older people just need less sleep? Not according to UC Berkeley researchers, who argue in an article published in the journal Neuron that the unmet sleep needs of the elderly elevate their risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders.

“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said senior author, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

Sleep deterioration has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke. Though older people are less likely to notice or report mental fogginess and other symptoms of sleep deprivation, numerous brain studies reveal how poor sleep leaves them cognitively worse off. Moreover, the shift from deep, consolidated sleep in youth to fitful, dissatisfying sleep can start as early as the thirties, paving the way for sleep-related cognitive and physical ailments in middle age.

While the pharmaceutical industry is raking in billions by catering to insomniacs, Walker warns that the pills designed to help us doze off are a poor substitute for the natural sleep cycles that the brain needs in order to function well. “Don’t be fooled into thinking sedation is real sleep. It’s not,” he said.

Slow Wave Sleep

For their review of sleep research, Walker – along with researchers Bryce Mander and Joseph Winer – cite studies, including some of their own, that show the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep curative sleep, as well as the neurochemicals that help us switch stably from sleep to wakefulness. “The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep,” said Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

Aging typically brings on a decline in deep, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) or “slow wave sleep,” and the characteristic brain waves associated with it, including both slow waves and faster bursts of brain waves known as “sleep spindles.” Youthful, healthy slow waves and spindles help transfer memories and information from the hippocampus, which provides the brain’s short-term storage, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates the information, acting as the brain’s long-term storage.

“Sadly, both these types of sleep brain waves diminish markedly as we grow old, and we are now discovering that this sleep decline is related to memory decline in later life,” said Winer. Another deficiency in later life is the inability to regulate neurochemicals that stabilize our sleep and help us transition from sleep to waking states. These neurochemicals include galanin, which promotes sleep, and orexin, which promotes wakefulness. A disruption to the sleep-wake rhythm commonly leaves older adults fatigued during the day but frustratingly restless at night.

Of course, not everyone is vulnerable to sleep changes in later life: “Just as some people age more successfully than others, some people sleep better than others as they get older, and that’s another line of research we’ll be exploring,” Mander said.

Quantity Vs. Quality Sleep

Meanwhile, non-pharmaceutical interventions are being explored to boost the quality of sleep, such as electrical stimulation to amplify brain waves during sleep and acoustic tones that act like a metronome to slow brain rhythms. However, promoting alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids is sure to be challenging.

“The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems,” Walker said. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”

Also important to consider in changing the culture of sleep is the question of quantity versus quality. “Previously, the conversation has focused on how many hours you need to sleep,” Mander said. “However, you can sleep for a sufficient number of hours, but not obtain the right quality of sleep. We also need to appreciate the importance of sleep quality. Indeed, we need both quantity and quality.”

Possible Correlation Between Quality Of Sleep And Dementia

The benefits of sleep are common knowledge to most, however, that doesn’t stop many people from not getting as much of it as they should based on their hectic lifestyles. Not only will sound sleep allow you to be more alert, make better split-second decisions, and also improve stress management, but it may also be deeply tied to preventing challenging, life altering illnesses. A recent study found that there may be a correlation between those who get less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during the night and those who are at greater risk of developing dementia.

There are five different stages of sleep. The first stage is light sleep, and the second stage is when the body prepares itself to transition into a deeper sleep – which continues to stages three and four. The final and fifth stage is referred to as REM sleep. This is also known as the dream stage where the process of dreaming occurs.

Certain things happen in the last and final stage of sleep that don’t during the others, such as elevated body temperature, quickened pulse and faster breathing. Typically the REM stage occurs about an hour to an hour and a half into the sleeping process and will occur numerous times throughout the night cycle. Certain people experience interruption in their sleep patterns or specific disturbances that make this type of rest very difficult to achieve.

The Dementia Link

“Sleep disturbances are common in dementia but little is known about the various stages of sleep and whether they play a role in dementia risk,” explains study author Matthew P. Ease PhD.  “We set out to discover which stages of sleep may be linked to dementia and while we did not find a link with deep sleep, we did with REM sleep.”

The study was compiled of over 300 individuals over the age of 67. Sleep data was compiled on each person. Thirty-two of the people were diagnosed with some type of dementia at the time with 24 who had Alzheimer’s disease. Only 17 percent of those who developed dementia spent more than 15% of their total sleep time in REM sleep. This is compared to over 20 percent of those who did not develop dementia.

The findings of the study clearly denote that REM sleep and the lack of it can be a predictor of dementia. The way that the mind works to process information, store memories and even dream is directly tied to our ability to properly rest our bodies and engage our minds, even if we do so subconsciously and without really knowing it.

So the next course of action is to determine why the lowered amount of REM sleep predicts this greater risk of dementia and find ways to intervene so that the end result isn’t as bleak and troubling. Though there were over 300 participants that took part in this study, it was shown that the sample size was a bit on the small side.

The importance of getting enough sleep, and quality sleep at that, is much more crucial than we could have previously understood. The brain is a complex and multifaceted organism and countless other studies will need to be conducted in order for us to truly understand its depth.

Sleeping Troubles May Have Evolutionary Cause

New research reveals that sleeping difficulties in older patients may have their root in evolutionary selection pressures. Studying a tribe of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, a group of researchers found that varying sleep patterns aid survival of the group.

Many people encounter trouble sleeping as they get older. Insomnia is a frequent problem facing the elderly, and many people report being unable to sleep until later and later into the night. These difficulties are often taken to be a sign that something is wrong. However, new research conducted by academics from UNLV, Duke University, and the University of Toronto, Mississauga suggests that trouble sleeping, especially among the elderly, may be a remnant of our evolutionary past. Having some members of a group awake during the night conferred significant survival advantages to our ancestors.

Sleep Study

The study, published in the anthropological journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, studied the Hazda people, a group of modern hunter-gatherers from Tanzania. Research indicates that varying sleep cycles in its population, usually associated with age, allow at least some members of the community to remain awake and attentive to danger throughout the night. Similar studies have previously drawn such conclusions about animals like birds and mice, but this is the first study to identify this behavior in humans.

The Hazda are organized into small groups of 20 to 30 people, and they spend their days searching for food before reconvening to sleep near each other around a fire or in huts made of grass and branches. Essentially, they live today like our early ancestors did, making them a useful population to study. Learning about how they live can give us insight into earlier humans. The study involved 33 men and women between the ages of 20 and 60 who agreed to wear watch-like devices on their wrists for 20 days. These devices recorded their movements during the nighttime.

The Findings

Sleep patterns varied widely among the group, researchers found. The average sleep cycle began at 10 p.m. and ended at 7 a.m., but other versions of the cycle existed, some beginning hours earlier and others beginning hours later. All of them were roused at some point during the night, sometimes to relieve themselves and sometimes to perform activities like tending to infants or smoking.

Between the varying cycles and activity during the night, researchers found only 18 minutes out of all 220 hours of the study during which every member of the group was soundly asleep at the same time. Later bedtimes were correlated with older participants in the study, but none of the participants complained of sleep problems, suggesting that these were natural sleep routines for them.

The research suggests that many sleep ailments might not indicate a problem. They just might be a natural result of our evolutionary past.

As Charlie Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke puts it, “A lot of older people go to doctors complaining that they wake up early and can’t get back to sleep, but maybe there’s nothing wrong with them.” Their apparent problems, he continued, may be a “relic of an evolutionary past in which they were beneficial.”