alzheimers and sleep apnea

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Alzheimer’s?

Recent studies have shown that sleep apnea can lead to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Sleep apnea is a beast all its own, but Alzheimer’s disease is a burden you most likely have a greater understanding of. It is a brutal disease that you would not wish upon anyone…

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects your memory, thinking capacity, and behavior. Most cases occur in individuals who are over the age of 65. The disease starts slow, then becomes worse over time. 

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty remembering recent information
  • Disorientation
  • Changes in mood and behavior

As the disease progresses people experience:

  • Worsening confusion about events, time, and place 
  • Forgetting family members, friends, and caregivers
  • Finally leading to difficulty speaking, walking, and swallowing.    

CPAP sleep apnea treatment

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

OSA is a sleep disorder that affects roughly 40 million people across the US. The condition causes you to halt your breathing multiple times throughout the night. Long-term complications of untreated OSA are:

  • Heart disease: Sleep apnea interferes with how your body takes in oxygen, therefore making it hard for your brain to control how blood flows throughout your body.
  • High Blood Pressure: When you wake up often during the night, your body gets stressed. As a result, your hormone systems become abnormal and boosts your blood pressure levels.
  • Obesity: This cause is a two-way street. OSA can cause the body to pack on excess weight due to stress, lack of proper sleep, and abnormal hormone levels. On the other hand, being overweight is a common factor that leads to developing OSA. (Case in point…eating healthy and exercise is important either way!)
  • Type 2 Diabetes: OSA is a very common problem for type 2 diabetes patients. There is no direct, proven link between the two; but interrupted sleep causes the body to use insulin incorrectly, therefore leading to diabetic issues.

Signs and Symptoms of OSA

  • Loud/excessive snoring
  • Waking up in the night gasping, coughing or choking
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep (observed by others)
  • Insomnia
  • Morning headaches, due to lack of oxygen
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Loss of memory
  • Decreased libido
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Vivid dreams followed by waking out of breathe
  • Felling drowsy during minimal activity

Plaques (In terms of nerve abnormalities)

Plaques are protein fragment deposits that form in the spaces between nerve cells called beta-amyloid. Most of us develop these deposits over time regardless of the presence of Alzheimer’s. However, people with Alzheimer’s develop significantly more of them, and in a specific pattern. 

The plaques begin to build in the brain in areas that affect memory first, then spread to other areas. That is the same pattern that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s takes; a loss of memory first, then loss of other functions. 

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s 

The beta-amyloid protein that is present in Alzheimer’s patients seems to also be more prevalent in people that suffer from sleep apnea. The people with sleep apnea have higher levels of the protein in their bodies than people who do not suffer from sleep apnea. 

These amyloid plaques are found prevalent in nerve stems of people that suffer from sleep apnea, as well.

A Way to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

Even though there is not inconclusive proof that sleep apnea is a direct cause of Alzheimer’s, the two diseases do cause the increase of the same beta-amyloid protein. Therefore, it is plausible to think that by treating sleep apnea you are:


  • Cohut, Maria. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea Linked to Higher Alzheimer’s Risk.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 10 Nov. 2017,
  • Roberts-Grey, Gina. “Sleep Apnea’s Connection to Memory Loss.” Philips, 2018,
  • “Sleep Apnea May Increase Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 10 Nov. 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.