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Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Fog and Will CPAP Therapy Help?

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After a disrupted night of frequent wake-ups and tossing and turning, you may find yourself pouring an extra cup of coffee or watching the clock in anticipation of a mid-afternoon nap. For some people diagnosed with sleep apnea, experiencing brain fog can be a common occurrence that makes it hard to concentrate and complete daily tasks. 

Sleep apnea can affect cognition—plus studies have shown that there is some correlation between sleep apnea and anxiety. Memory loss, difficulty regulating your mood, slower reaction times, and decreased reasoning abilities are some indicators of brain fog. If you feel distracted during an important meeting, routinely misplace your keys, or feel exhausted even after a full night of sleep, you may be experiencing sleep apnea-induced brain fog. 

Untreated sleep apnea and brain fog go hand-in-hand, unfortunately, but many people with sleep apnea can reduce or eliminate brain fog symptoms by routinely using their CPAP equipment each night. 

To help you get relief from brain fog, let’s dive into what brain fog is and the relationship between sleep apnea and brain fog!

What Is Brain Fog and Can Sleep Apnea Cause It?

Often described as an underlying symptom of other health conditions, brain fog, and mild cognitive impairment can be caused by a lack of sleep that can stem from:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
  • Changes in Hormones
  • Certain Medications
  • Diet
  • Stress

Though the impairment caused by brain fog isn’t “fully understood,” it’s often associated with “slow thinking, difficulty focusing, confusion, lack of concentration, [or] forgetfulness.”

You may be wondering, “Does sleep apnea cause brain fog?” In short, yes, untreated sleep apnea can cause brain fog symptoms like forgetfulness and memory impairment as well as a lack of mental clarity and emotional control. While there isn’t one definitive solution for brain fog, those who experience it often find that treating the underlying health issue—like sleep apnea—provides relief. 

While some wonder if sleep apnea causes brain fog, others ask, “Can CPAP cause brain fog?” CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, is a common treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea and does not cause brain fog or symptoms like brain fog. Rather, starting CPAP treatment may help alleviate cognitive impairment like brain fog.

To understand how treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea can improve symptoms of brain fog, it’s important to understand how sleep apnea affects the brain.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect the Brain?

Chronic sleep deprivation prevents the brain from getting the rest it needs. Since untreated OSA causes blockages that prevent oxygen from being pulled to your airways, your body is forced to wake you up to restore airflow. Together, a lack of oxygen and frequent wake-ups throughout the night mean you are unable to get the rejuvenation your brain and body require, which can cause a host of issues ranging from mood swings to short-term memory loss.

Several studies, including some featured in this article, have shown that a lack of oxygen can affect the grey matter—the cerebral cortex—where most information processing occurs, ultimately impacting thinking and memory. Sleep apnea can also affect the chemical balance of the brain.

Additionally, though the impact remains unclear, untreated OSA has been proven to cause disruptions with your circadian rhythm. When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, mitochondria are unable to produce enough energy for cells, causing changes in cognitive function, blood pressure, and the heart.

Think You May Have Sleep Apnea? Take Our FREE Sleep Apnea Quiz!

Discover your risk for sleep apnea with just a few clicks! Our FREE Quiz is super simple and easy to use. You’ll receive a personalized score that will tell you how likely you are to have this sleep disorder and the next steps you can take for diagnosis and treatment.

Will CPAP Therapy Help Brain Fog?

Evidence strongly suggests that CPAP therapy helps reduce brain fog. Treating sleep apnea with a CPAP machine has been shown to, over time, significantly improve or even reverse some symptoms related to cognitive function.

A 2011 study showed an improvement in memory, attention, and critical thinking after just 3 months of CPAP therapy. 

Another 2014 study showed a complete reversal of the deterioration of white matter in affected areas of the brain after a year of CPAP therapy.

White and gray matter concentrations in the brain naturally decrease with age; the overall volume of these brain tissues directly correlates with cognitive ability. Simply put, CPAP therapy restores this loss of brain matter density, effectively addressing both age-induced cognitive decline and brain fog. 

Sleep Apnea and Brain Fog: Final Thoughts

If you suspect sleep apnea may be causing your brain fog, make an appointment to talk with your doctor about scheduling an overnight sleep study or arranging for a home sleep test. 

Our advanced, non-invasive at-home sleep test—the world’s smallest—provides the accuracy of a clinical sleep study without the hassle of sleeping with wires on in an unfamiliar setting. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea and pursue treatment, you can anticipate benefits such as:

  • Improvement in Concentration
  • Better Memory Recall
  • Increase in Daytime Energy
  • More Restful Sleep
  • Reduction or Elimination of Snoring 

If you already know you have sleep apnea but aren’t currently treating it with CPAP therapy or sleep apnea treatment alternatives, consider talking with your doctor about getting a prescription for a CPAP machine. Not only will using a CPAP machine help improve untreated sleep apnea brain fog, but you may also notice, with time, improvements in your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels.

You don’t have to live with sleep apnea and brain fog; using a CPAP machine each night can help you sleep better, which can reduce or eliminate symptoms of brain fog. 

Don’t fret—we’re here to help—our blog offers tips for CPAP compliance and getting the most out of your CPAP treatment, and our online catalog features a variety of comfort products to improve your sleep night after night.

Have a question about sleep apnea and brain fog? Leave a comment below and we’ll write back!

  • Merritt Wakefield

    Merritt Wakefield is a writer and researcher committed to helping people with CPAP learn about sleep apnea and the various benefits and features of sleep therapy and CPAP products.

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