Scientists have previously found that sleep apnea causes physical brain damage in the form of a thinning of the cerebral cortex (gray matter).
But a new study from the University of California at Los Angeles reveals that one gender suffers worse cognitive defects as a result than the other.
Researchers recruited 36 men and 12 women who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea, and 40 men and 22 women without this condition.
They first gave their subjects high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging scans to examine the condition of their brains, followed by cognitive and psychological tests to assess their level of functioning.
They found that the cerebral cortex in the brains of people with sleep apnea was thinner than in those without the sleep disorder. In fact, this association was so strong that not one of the sleep apnea sufferers had a thick cerebral cortex.
The cerebral cortex is the part of your brain that is normally called the gray matter. It covers the parts of your brain called the cerebrum and the cerebellum.
Most information processing occurs in your cerebral cortex, especially the part that covers the cerebrum, as this is the most advanced part of your brain responsible for thinking, sensing, and language.
Your frontal lobes, parietal lobes, temporal lobes, and occipital lobes are all part of the cerebral cortex and these are the places where your intelligence, your personality, your motor actions, your planning ability, your sensations, and your language understanding and production occur.
In other words, almost everything you are and do arise from your cerebral cortex, so you can see why a thinning of this vital part of your brain because of sleep apnea disrupts your life so much.
In this study, those people with the worst sleep apnea had the thinnest cerebral cortices.
Women who suffered sleep apnea had worse cognitive functioning than men. For some unexplained reason, women’s brains suffered deterioration in more regions of their superior frontal lobes than was the case for men. The superior frontal lobe is where a lot of your thinking and intelligence happen.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you have sleep apnea (and if you snore loud, most likely you do), it’s essential to heal it before it makes more damage.