Brain Damage Reversed by CPAP

Obstructive sleep apnea has many terrible side effects, one being brain damage. No, not the brain damage you’re thinking of…(the vegetative, unable to take care of yourself, type) More like damage to grey and white matter that cause impairments to cognition, mood, and daytime alertness.

CPAP therapy has shown to reverse the damage done to the grey and white matter in the brain. Therefore, successful treatment can repair your brain back to its complete functionality.

brain scan OSA vs not
Brain scan showing brain with OSA has less blood flow than a normal brain

What Obstructive Sleep Apnea Does to the Brain

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes episodes in which you stop breathing.  The airway going into the lungs become restricted or collapses completely, stopping oxygen from getting into the lungs. As a result, the cells in your body, including brain cells, become deprived of oxygen. The episode is called an “apnea.”

During an apnea when oxygen is not able to get into the lungs, the heartbeat gets slower.  Then, as the person takes a breath, the heart begins pumping frantically to get the oxygen back to all the cells.  A few seconds later, the airway collapses again, and the cycle repeats. In severe cases, the cycle can repeat itself more than 80 times an hour.

Cells become damaged without oxygen, and can even die completely.  Hypoxemia is the condition that occurs when oxygen levels in your blood are low. Hypoxemia leads to oxygen deficiency at the cellular level, called hypoxia. OSA is the worst respiratory related disorder that leads to hypoxemia and hypoxia.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is a destructive disease that can ruin your health and increase your risk of death,” – American Academy of Sleep Medicine President, Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler.

The Blood-Brain Barrier

“The blood-brain barrier is a capillary filtering mechanism that carries blood to the brain and spinal cord. It allows water, some gases, glucose and amino acids to pass through to the nerve cells, but it blocks the passage of certain dangerous substances, thus protecting the brain from infections, chemicals, harmful bacteria, and potential neurotoxins.” -(Grey and White Brain Matter)

Sleep apnea makes this barrier easier to penetrate for the dangerous substances. Those substances can lead to conditions such as:

  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Multiple other serious conditions

Grey and White Matter

grey and white brain matter

The brain is made up of grey and white matter. Gray matter is associated with processing and cognition.  It involves muscle control, sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, speech, self-control, decision-making, memory and emotions.

White matter is tissue that acts as a mailman between areas of grey matter; sending messages back and forth. So, the white matter affects how the brain learns and functions.

Sleep apnea causes damage to the white matter, consequently damaging the grey matter, as well.

How CPAP Treatment Reverses the Brain Damage

CPAP treatment

CPAP is an effective way to treat obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP machine pumps air through a mask worn on your face. The airflow keep your airway open while you sleep so there are no pauses in breathing. The airflow is adjusted according to the severity of your sleep apnea.

A study was conducted to determine the improvements in grey and white matter within a person’s brain:

  • Grey Matter
    • Significant improvements appeared after three months of testing. There were reductions in inflammation which stabilized mood regulation, as well as improvements in depression symptoms.
  • White Matter
    • Limited improvements were seen after three months. However, after 12 months, the white matter displayed a complete recovery. As a result, there were signs of better cognitive tests, alertness, mood, and quality of life.

CPAP treatment has proven to bring the brain’s chemicals and functionality back to normal.


  • Compton, Jackie. “Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?” Snoring, Sleep Apnea, Sleep Studies, CPAP, BiPAP, 2017,
  • Editorial Staff. “Grey and White Brain Matter.”, jpg., 9 Feb, 2018, //
  • Heffron, Thomas M. “Treating Sleep Apnea Reverses Brain Damage.” Sleep Education, CDC Healthy Sleep, 8 Sept. 2014,
  • Rajesh Kuma. “Brain Scan of OSA Brain vs Normal Brain.”, jpg., National Institutes of Health, 1 Sep, 2017,

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.