Sleep apnea, a severe sleep disorder associated with various chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks, is now found to also contribute to cognitive impairments, including memory and thinking problems.

According to the findings of a recent study, individuals with symptoms of sleep apnea are approximately 50% more prone to reporting memory or cognitive issues compared to those without such symptoms.

Sleep apnea occurs when individuals repeatedly stop and resume breathing during sleep, causing symptoms such as snoring, snorting, and gasping. The affected individuals may also experience morning headaches and difficulty concentrating on tasks.

The latest study identified a positive association between sleep apnea and cognitive decline. However, the researchers have not examined if sleep apnea causes cognitive decline.

"Sleep apnea is a common disorder that is often underdiagnosed, yet treatments are available. Our study found participants who had sleep apnea symptoms had greater odds of having memory or thinking problems," study author Dominique Low said in a news release.

Researchers collected questionnaires from 4,257 people who were asked to report their sleep quality and memory and thinking problems. The sleep quality was measured in terms of symptoms such as snorting, gasping, or breathing pauses in their sleep. For assessing memory and thinking, participants were asked questions related to difficulty remembering, periods of confusion, difficulty concentrating, or problems with decision-making.

The results revealed that among 1,079 participants displaying symptoms of sleep apnea, 33%, equivalent to 357 individuals, exhibited signs of memory or cognitive issues. In contrast, 20% of those without sleep apnea symptoms, totaling 628 people, reported similar problems.

"After adjusting for other factors that could affect memory and thinking problems, such as age, race, gender, and education, researchers found that people who reported sleep apnea symptoms were about 50% more likely to also report having memory or thinking problems compared to people who did not have sleep apnea symptoms," the news release stated.

One limitation of the study is that people with sleep apnea were identified based on self-reported surveys instead of medical assessments by a healthcare professional. Despite this, researchers believe that their findings hold significant value in highlighting the importance of early sleep apnea diagnosis and seeking treatment for cognitive health.

"These findings highlight the importance of early screening for sleep apnea. Effective treatments like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are readily available. Quality sleep, along with eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, social engagement, and cognitive stimulation, may ultimately reduce a person's risk of thinking and memory problems, improving their quality of life," Low said.