Sleep-related breathing disorders encompass a range of disorders in which abnormal ventilation occurs during sleep as a result of partial or complete obstruction of the upper airway, altered respiratory drive, abnormal chest wall movement, or respiratory muscle function. The most common of these is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), occurring in both adults and children, and causing significant cognitive and daytime dysfunction and reduced quality of life. OSA patients experience repetitive brief cessation of breathing throughout the night, which causes intermittent hypoxemia (reductions in hemoglobin oxygen levels) and fragmented sleep patterns. These nocturnal events result in excessive daytime sleepiness, and changes in mood and cognition. Chronic excessive sleepiness during the day is a common symptom of sleep-related breathing disorders, which is assessed in sleep clinics both subjectively (questionnaire) and objectively (sleep latency tests). Mood changes are often reported by patients, including irritability, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. A wide range of cognitive deficits have been identified in untreated OSA patients, from attentional and vigilance, to memory and executive functions, and more complex tasks such as simulated driving. These changes are reflected in patient reports of difficulty in concentrating, increased forgetfulness, an inability to make decisions, and falling asleep at the wheel of a motor vehicle. These cognitive changes can also have significant downstream effects on daily functioning. Moderate to severe cases of the disorder are at a higher risk of having a motor vehicle accident, and may also have difficulties at work or school. A number of comorbidities may also influence the cognitive changes in OSA patients, including hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. These diseases can cause changes to neural vasculature and result in neural damage, leading to cognitive impairments. Examination of OSA patients using neuroimaging techniques such as structural magnetic resonance imaging and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy has observed significant changes to brain structure and metabolism. The downstream effects of neural, cognitive, and daytime functional impairments can be significant if left untreated. A better understanding of the cognitive effects of these disorders, and development of more effective assessment tools for diagnosis, will aid early intervention and improve quality of life of the patient.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.