CPAP Doesn’t Relieve Drowsiness in all Sleep Apnea Sufferers

CPAP is the most commonly prescribed treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, but many patients discontinue therapy before it can be effective. And a new study suggests that even those who adhere to CPAP treatment may suffer from potentially dangerous, lingering effects.

cpap photo
Photo by sfslim. An example of a CPAP mask.

The Daytime Effects of Sleep Apnea

The most severe dangers of untreated sleep apnea include an increased risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. However, sleep apnea also has more subtle effects.

The breathing interruptions associated with sleep apnea disrupt the natural sleep cycle and prevent the body from receiving sufficient rest. Over time, this lack of sleep can lead to daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, feelings of depression, and a general sense of fatigue.

These complications can further affect a person’s performance at school or work and impair one’s ability to drive. These daytime side-effects, and whether CPAP effectively eliminates them, were the focus of a recent study at the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

CPAP and the Daily Grind

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and CPAP combats obstructive sleep apnea by delivering a sustained oxygen flow during sleep through a small mask connected to an air circulator. CPAP has proven effective in reducing the harmful apnea episodes when used as prescribed. But as a Reuters report about the new research points out, about one-third of those who use CPAP experience persistent daytime sleepiness.

The study included two groups of 15 individuals between the ages of 35 and 60. All participants were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and underwent CPAP therapy. The groups were divided by those who reported lingering daytime drowsiness and those who reported no remaining daytime fatigue, then assessed for mental functions related to attentiveness, memory and judgment.

Unfortunately, scientists could not pinpoint why sleepiness endures in some people amid CPAP treatment. They did find connections between recurring drowsiness and diminished cognitive skills. Those who complained of daytime drowsiness fared worse on verbal-fluency and problem-solving tests. They also had difficulty focusing on the task at-hand and displayed more signs of depression.

The research findings were published in the October issue of Sleep Medicine, the journal of the World Association of Sleep Medicine and the International Pediatric Sleep Association. As the study’s authors note, patients who don’t find relief from their sleep apnea symptoms will likely stop using CPAP and continue to suffer the health risks of obstructive sleep apnea.

Other Sleep Apnea Treatments

CPAP is not the only sleep apnea treatment. Many patients are able to restore healthy sleep with the use of a custom-made oral device similar to a sports mouthguard.

These comfortable, form-fitting appliances are designed for each individual’s unique bite structure and jaw alignment. They prevent snoring and offset sleep apnea by holding the jaw in an optimal position and promoting an unobstructed air passage during sleep. While oral appliances are more often prescribed for moderate sleep apnea, they are also recommended for those who find CPAP masks uncomfortable and aren’t able to continue long-term treatment.

You should consult with a physician or dentist experienced in sleep apnea treatment if you snore loud enough to wake yourself or disturb others, if you often find yourself waking from sleep choking or gasping for air, or if you suffer from excessive daytime drowsiness.

Austin dentist Dr. Dan Matthews has extensive experience helping people eliminate snoring and regain healthy, restful sleep with oral appliances. To learn more about sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment, or to schedule your consultation at our Bee Cave Road Office, please call 512-452-2273.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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