Sleep Apnea Causes Memory Loss

Recent studies have shown a link between obstructive sleep apnea and memory loss. Obstructive sleep apnea affects an estimated 900+ million people in the world, making this a global concern.

How Does OSA Cause Memory Loss?

People think that they are having issues with memory because of not sleeping enough. However, studies point to the brain actually being injured, and that is where the memory loss comes from.

Memories are formed in mammillary bodies, located on the underside of the brain. The bodies are generally smaller in size for OSA patients than in a healthy person. That points to the fact that sleep apnea negatively affects the body’s ability to remember.

How do the Mammillary Bodies become Damaged?

Sleep apnea causes the body to have less oxygen than normal throughout the night. The lack of oxygen leads to the destruction of the mammillary bodies, and therefore, memory.

A person experiences multiple lapses in breathing per hour during the night. When that happens the body’s oxygen drops to dangerous levels, as explained by Dr. Harper, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA:

“He explains that oxygen in the blood drops to dangerous levels when the throat collapses during sleep, a person rouses enough to gasp for breath (without fully waking), then the blood oxygen level shoots back up when breathing starts again. When the brain is flushed with oxygen over and over again after these drops, free oxygen radicals are produced and damage the brain.”

MacMillan, Amanda. “Sleep Apnea May Damage Brain Cells Associated With Memory.”, 2008,

What Memory Loss Does to Someone

Gaps in memory lead to a person feeling out of sorts, obviously. Consistent periods of short-term memory issues lead to depressed feelings. Day, after day, feeling more and more helpless. Eventually, the issues become the “norm.”

Also consider how it affects the people around them. Spouses, parents, siblings, etc. will struggle with how to handle the issue on their end.

CPAP Therapy Helps Eliminate Memory Loss

To reduce or eliminate the damage that causes memory loss, the main cause needs treated. In this case, the main cause is sleep apnea. A great way to accomplish that is to use a CPAP machine. The treatment pushes pressurized air through the lungs. That air helps the user to breath better at night, therefore eliminating the damage caused by lack of oxygen to the brain.

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.