Is Heavy Snoring Aging You Prematurely?

man sleeping in bed morning

Heavy snorers and people with sleep apnea may be more likely to develop memory and thinking problems at younger ages than their well-rested peers, a new study suggests.

The good news from the study is that treating sleep apnea with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may delay mental decline.

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“Treatment may not cure the disease, but may delay the onset of memory problems,” said lead researcher Dr. Ricardo Osorio, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Center for Cognitive Neurology.

Osorio cautioned that this study showed only an association between sleep disruption and developing mild mental impairment or Alzheimer’s early. It didn’t prove that sleep apnea or snoring caused the mental decline. And, obviously, not everyone with sleep breathing problems will develop a brain disorder. “There is a question whether sleep disruption is an early symptom or a risk factor,” he said.

He added, however, that the onset of mild mental decline among those treated with CPAP occurred about a decade later than those whose sleep problems weren’t treated.

“That’s a big gap,” Osorio said. “Our assumption is that a [sleep breathing problem] works both ways — it is an early symptom and can be a risk factor,” he said.

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Sleep apnea and heavy snoring are common in seniors, affecting about 53 percent of men and 26 percent of women, according to background information in the study.

“Sleep apnea is underdiagnosed in the elderly and unrecognized as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” Osorio said.