Have you ever wondered what effect the quality of your sleep has on your brain health?  We often hear about the relationship between sleep and cardiovascular or metabolic health, but what happens to our brains while we sleep?  

Alzheimer’s disease and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) are two seemingly unrelated health conditions that share a surprising connection.  Research continues to uncover a growing body of evidence suggesting that sleep quality plays a crucial role in our cognitive health. 

Since January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month let’s explore Alzheimer’s disease and Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects memory, cognitive function, and behavior. It is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits, including beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, in the brain. These deposits disrupt communication between nerve cells, leading to the gradual deterioration of brain function.  Understanding the progression of this disease is vital for developing interventions that can slow or stop its impact, emphasizing the need for early detection and effective treatments.

The Role of Sleep in Cognitive Health:

Quality sleep is fundamental for overall well-being, with its impact reaching beyond mere rest to a significant influence on cognitive function. When we sleep, the brain engages in vital processes such as memory consolidation, the removal of toxins, and neural repair. These activities play a pivotal role in enhancing cognitive abilities and maintaining a healthy brain. Think of it as a nightly maintenance crew, silently working in the background to keep our brains in top shape. Conversely, interruptions in the sleep cycle can disrupt these essential processes, potentially leading to a decline in cognitive function.  

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and its Impact:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder marked by recurring instances of partial or complete obstruction in the upper airway during sleep. The result is periodic pauses in breathing, reduced oxygen levels in the blood, and fragmented sleep. Aside from its immediate impact on sleep quality, OSA has been correlated with a whole host of health concerns.  Most notably, it has been linked to cardiovascular issues and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, however, the emerging research shows a significant association between OSA and cognitive impairment. The intermittent disruption of oxygen flow to the brain during sleep may contribute to these cognitive challenges, highlighting the consequences of untreated sleep disorders on our overall health and cognitive well-being. Addressing OSA not only supports better sleep but also potentially mitigates the risk of these associated health issues.

Wondering if you have OSA?  Tell-tale signs include loud snoring, sudden air gasps during sleep, persistent daytime sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating.  In addition to snoring, your family or friends might notice daytime irritability, and pauses in your breathing during sleep.

What does this mean for Alzheimer’s:

Recent studies have uncovered a concerning connection between Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The correlation lies in the adverse effects of OSA, particularly oxygen desaturation and fragmented sleep. The interrupted oxygen supply during OSA has been associated with an increased accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.  This discovery implies a potential link between oxygen disturbances caused by OSA and the molecular processes responsible for the formation of these plaques.

Furthermore, OSA contributes to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, factors that are recognized as key players in neurodegenerative processes. The persistent inflammation and increased oxidative stress resulting from untreated OSA could worsen the complex chain of events observed in Alzheimer’s disease. 

Addressing Sleep Issues for Better Brain Health:

So, what’s the solution?  If you have been diagnosed with OSA then you may already be familiar with CPAP therapy.  It helps manage OSA and has shown promise in slowing down the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s.  How does a CPAP unit help?  The device uses continuous positive airway pressure through a mask that you wear while sleeping to keep your airway open.  This prevents blood oxygen levels from dropping, keeps your blood pressure steady, and reduces the risk of heart disease and other sleep apnea-related illnesses.  

Let’s not forget the things we can all do every day – maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a cozy sleep environment and incorporating relaxation techniques can work wonders.  Addressing sleep issues for better brain health involves a multifaceted approach.  From leveraging CPAP therapy for OSA management to prioritizing sleep for cognitive preservation, each action that we take plays a role in promoting and maintaining optimal brain function and overall well-being.


The link between poor sleep and brain health is clear.  Armed with this knowledge, let’s be mindful of our sleep habits, understand the puzzle pieces involved, and work towards a well-rested and healthy brain.  Your brain will appreciate the TLC, and you might just find yourself sleeping better than you have in years.

Ready to take the next step in prioritizing your sleep and brain health? Book a discovery call with a member of our Virtual Care Team. Let’s work together towards a healthier, more rejuvenated you!

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Alzheimer Society. What is Alzheimer’s? Retrieved from https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/what-alzheimers-disease

Public Health Agency of Canada. What is Sleep Apnea? Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/sleep-apnea.html

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Healthy Sleep Tips. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/healthy-sleep-tips