Sleep Apnea May Harm Your Brain Health

Do you snore loudly? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night gasping for air? Or maybe, has your sleeping partner told you that you snore loudly or breathe badly during sleep?

Do you feel exhausted during the day, no matter how long you sleep? These could be signs you suffer from sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep due to airway obstruction. The characteristic snoring and pauses in breathing can happen dozens of times per hour. Even when you don’t wake fully, the repeated arousals lead to poor sleep quality.

Beyond leaving you tired, untreated sleep apnea can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health.


The defining symptom of untreated sleep apnea is chronic fatigue. Because sleep is constantly disrupted with partial arousals, people with sleep apnea spend little time in restorative deep sleep stages. This leads to persistent tiredness throughout the day, regardless of how many hours they sleep.

Cognitive Impairment

In addition to physical exhaustion, the fragmented sleep caused by sleep apnea impairs mental functioning. Many studies show people with untreated sleep apnea perform worse on cognitive tests involving attention, vigilance, memory and executive function. The cognitive deficits may increase the risk of traffic and work-related accidents.

Increased Risk of Heart Disease

When your breathing is interrupted during sleep, it stresses the cardiovascular system. The drops in oxygen levels and arousal from sleep cause your blood pressure and heart rate to spike. This puts extra strain on the heart. Over time, untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and irregular heart rhythms.

Weight Gain

People with sleep apnea tend to be overweight. But there’s also evidence sleep apnea leads to weight gain. The intermittent hypoxia and fragmented sleep can disrupt appetite-regulating hormones. Sleep deprivation reduces motivation for exercise. Obesity and sleep apnea become a vicious cycle, compounding each other.

Mood Disorders

Not getting proper sleep takes a toll on your emotional health. Irritability, anxiety, and depression are common in those with untreated sleep apnea. It is unsure whether mood disorders are caused directly by the brain effects of sleep apnea, or are a consequence of the resulting fatigue.


Sleep apnea sufferers have a higher incidence of morning headaches. The oxygen deprivation and increased blood pressure during apneic events may contribute to this common complaint. For some, treating the sleep apnea eases headaches.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience loud snoring, observed pauses in breathing during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness or morning headaches, see your doctor. They can refer you to a sleep specialist for an official diagnosis.

Sleep apnea is normally diagnosed through an overnight sleep study monitoring brain waves, breathing, oxygen levels, heart rate, and movements. If sleep apnea is confirmed, treatment options range from lifestyle changes and mouthpieces to breathing devices or surgery.

Addressing sleep apnea greatly improves quality of life and well-being. The health risks associated with untreated sleep apnea make it crucial to seek medical advice if symptoms are present. Treating this manageable condition can help you sleep better and wake up refreshed.