If you suffer from a case of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and have been feeling a bit off, there might be a reason why. A new study has shown that sleep apnea may be taking a toll on how your brain functions; thus affecting your brain’s chemicals.

Affected Brain Chemicals

The new research, from the UCLA School of Nursing, showed significant changes in the levels of two essential brain chemicals. These neurotransmitters, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is also known as GABA, are found in the region of the brain called the insula. This part of the brain regulates emotion, thinking, and physical functions such as blood pressure and perspiration.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that acts as accelerator. When its levels are high, they induce a state of stress within the brain. As you can imagine, the brain doesn’t function well when under stress.

GABA acts as an inhibitor in the brain. These brain chemicals basically act as the opposite of glutamate, relieving stress and keeping people calm.

The research determined that people suffering from sleep apnea showed high levels of glutamate and low levels of GABA.

What Does This Mean?

This research explains a significant number of problems experienced by people suffering with sleep apnea. More often than not, people with sleep apnea will report problems such as poor concentration, memory issues, having a hard time making decisions, depression, and stress.

Paul Macey, the lead researcher on the study and an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing, states, “It is rare to have this size of difference in biological measures…. We expected an increase in the glutamate, because it is a chemical that causes damage in high doses and we have already seen brain damage from sleep apnea. What we were surprised to see was the drop in GABA. That made us realize that there must be a reorganization of how the brain is working.”

Scientists find that their research is enlightening news for treatment against sleep apnea.  With the findings from their research, Dr. Macey now knows that “Stress, concentration, memory loss – these are the things people want fixed.” They determined that when it comes to helping patients, they need to be aware of these symptoms.

A continuous pressure device (CPAP) is a machine that helps individuals sleep easier, and according to Dr. Macey, “is the gold standard treatment for sleep disturbance.” In the future, scientists hope to test whether or not people with altered brain chemicals will return to normal levels after using a CPAP machine.