December 3, 2002
by Tracie Potts
Los Angeles-- Loud snoring is symptom of sleep apnea, a dangerous condition in which a person stops breathing-- as many as hundreds of times during the night.
Scientists now believes they've linked the disorder to childhood brain damage. Damage in the same part of the brain that's involved in stuttering. As it turns out, snoring wasn't the worst of it.
Frank Bland stopped breathing 350 times a night-- a mild case of sleep apnea. The solution came from his dentist, a device that prevents frank's jaw from receding during sleep keeping his airway open. "My wife and I are fighting because I'm snoring, as she says, like a freight train." said Frank Bland. "First night I had the device my wife woke me up, because she thought I might be dead, because I wasn't making any noise. She couldn't believe it!"
Sleep apnea affects about 4% of the US population. Doctors used to believe it was caused by obesity or a small airway. But recent research suggests that brain damage may be behind this dangerous condition. Researchers at the university of California, Los Angeles studied brain scans of people with sleep apnea. They found significant areas of gray matter loss-- brain damage.
Some, they believe, resulted from the lack of oxygen when patients stopped breathing at night. However, other damaged areas appear to have existed since childhood. This area controls speech and language.
Surprisingly, 40 percent of these patients also reported stuttering as children. That’s five times the rate of stuttering in the general population. UCLA Neurobiologist Dr. Ron Harper says, "What it suggests is brain wiring that leads to stuttering may lead to trigger obstructive sleep apnea later in life."
This type of damage can lead to memory loss and other cognitive deficits. The benefit of this finding is being able to detect it early - before sleep apnea becomes both a nuisance and a danger.
Do you think you sleep well at night?
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