gray illustration of brainAccording to a new study in the Sleep journal, one element of OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea), cortical arousal, is associated with lower gray matter volume in the left frontal pole.  Gray matter is a major component of the CNS, controlling muscle movements and sensory perception.  It undergoes development during childhood and adolescence.  Studies have shown that by the age of 8, gray matter starts to decrease, but then increases again as a person enters adulthood.  OSA has been known to be associated with cognitive disorders and CNS disruptions.  Patients who are diagnosed with severe OSA show a significant reduction in gray matter volume and decreased cerebral function.  In addition to OSA, insomnia has proven to be associated with cognitive dysfunction and structural disorders in the brain.  Alzheimer’s as well has been triggered by sleep disturbances.

The researchers in this particular study looked at sleep characteristics as opposed to breathing disturbances.  PSG recordings among patients between ages 35-65 were used for their investigation, revealing apnea-hypopnea events. The recordings took place over an 8-hour period, from 10pm-6am. Brain analysis showed a significant association between the first PSG assessment component and lower gray matter volume in the left frontal pole.

Although the study was only one night, the results did “advance our understanding of disrupted sleep, particularly with regard to breathing disturbances, cortical arousal, and its associations with lower gray matter volume,” the researchers said. 

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