If you were to list the common causes of brain damage you might think of alcohol, trauma, and stroke. However, snoring could actually be the number 1 cause of damage to the brain! Read on to find out how snoring can lead to brain damage in both adults and children.
Snoring and oxygen
Snoring is the noise made when the air flow is disrupted while sleeping. This occurs when the airways relax and partial blockages occur. When you snore, you are not breathing properly, oxygen levels drop, and blood flow decreases. Low oxygen levels lead to an inflammatory response and to an adrenaline surge in the body. This adrenaline response is due to the activation of your sympathetic nervous system. This leads to blood vessel contraction and an elevated heart rate. It’s basically the body in panic mode. This causes an elevation of blood pressure, which is also detrimental the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia which impairs memory, thinking and behaviour. It is characterised by a build up of deposits known as beta-amyloid. In people who snore, low oxygen levels lead to an elevation of this protein in the blood. There is growing evidence that snoring is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Snoring and gut bacteria
The impact and influence of gut bacteria is popular in the media at the moment. We are hearing about good and bad bacteria and how our diet can influence the population of these bacteria in our gut. These bacteria can send messages to the brain and consequently influence our behaviour. Snoring impacts gut bacteria, leading to the ‘bad bacteria‘ becoming more populous. These changes in gut bacteria may lead to high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. Both of which are bad for brain health.
Snoring in children
It’s possible that as many as 1 in 5 children have some sort of brain abnormality due to breathing problems. Snoring affects the part of the brain that deals with memory in children. It can also disrupt the parts of the brain involved in cognition, behaviour, and mood and may lead to loss of brain tissue. This damage can happen early in life and the best way to improve outcomes is early identification and early treatment.
For more information about snoring in children take a look at this slide show.
What you can do if you snore
So what does this all mean? In many ways, snoring is the perfect storm when it comes to damaging the brain. In summary, ‘Don’t ignore the snore’. It’s important to find out if your snoring is a symptom of a health problem such as sleep apnea. If you snore, see a doctor. Your doctor or specialist will be able to suggest steps to reduce your snoring. Your brain will thank you and so will your family.
Dr David McIntosh
Paediatric ENT Specialist
David is a paediatric ENT surgeon based in Queensland that specialises in managing upper airway obstruction in children and adults. He lectures internationally on the topic of snoring and its deleterious effects on health and well being. Visit the Facebook page to learn more about snoring and purchase David’s book.