Obstructive Sleep Apnea During Childhood May Affect Brain Development, Study Shows

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According to a recent study, adolescents who suffer from sleep apnea, a respiratory disorder that occurs during sleep, may exhibit variations in brain structure compared to their counterparts.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects brain development

The study revealed that a group of approximately 100 adolescents who had brain scans exhibited thinner brain tissue on the surface of the brain and indications of inflammation in a brain region that is essential for learning and memory. In addition, those who had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) displayed these characteristics more frequently.

However, Dr. Raanan Arens, lead author of the study and chief of respiratory and sleep medicine at the Montefiore Children’s Hospital in New York City, cautioned that it is still uncertain what these differences in brain structure imply.

OSA affects 1% to 5% of children causing breathing interruptions during sleep, resulting in loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, and attention problems. In addition, recent research published in the journal Sleep suggests that OSA can lead to observable changes in children’s brains as the brain “wakes up” a little when breathing stops during sleep.

It is important to note that OSA can negatively impact children’s brains because it disrupts the brain’s oxygen supply and deprives kids of essential restorative sleep. A study conducted by Arens and colleagues involved 98 teenagers, with 53 having OSA and being overweight or obese and 45 having the same weight range but without sleep apnea. MRI brain scans were conducted on all participants.

Individuals with OSA have a larger hippocampus and thinner cortex

Researchers compared brain structure between teens with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and those without the disorder. The study found that those with OSA had a thinner cortex and larger hippocampus volume, with more severe OSA leading to greater differences. The implications of these structural differences on cognitive and emotional function are unknown.

The study examines how obstructive sleep apnea OSA affects teenagers’ brain consequences, including cortical thinning and hippocampus volume. Surgery or a device that keeps the airways open may be required to treat sleep apnea caused by inflamed tonsils or adenoids in children.

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