Wednesday , March 3 2021

memory problems? Sleep apnea makes you forget details of your life

SYDNEY: People with sleep apnea struggle to remember details of memories of their own lives, which puts them at risk of depression, new research finds.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly.

The study examined how the condition affected autobiographical memory and found that people with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) suffer from memory problems in their lives.

However, it is not well understood how these issues are related to the development of the disease.


"We know that excessively general autobiographical memories in which people do not remember many specific details of life events are associated with the development of persistent depression," said researcher Melinda Jackson of RMIT University in Australia.

"Our study suggests that sleep apnea may impair the brain's ability to encode or consolidate certain types of life memories, making it difficult for people to remember details of the past," Jackson said.

It is also a significant risk factor for depression, so if we can better understand the neurobiological mechanisms at work, we will have a chance to improve the mental health of millions of people, Jackson suggested.

For the study, the team compared 44 adults with untreated OSA to 44 healthy controls, assessing the memory of different types of autobiographical memories from childhood, early adulthood and recent life.

The results, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychology Society, showed that people with OSA had significantly more 52.3 percent of overgeneral memories, compared with 18.9 percent of the control group.

In addition, the study also analyzed the memory of semantic memory (facts and concepts of personal history or teachers' names) and episodic memory (events or episodes such as the first day of high school).

As people with OS struggled with semantic memory, episodic memory was preserved, the results showed.

This is because of their fragmented sleep patterns and that good sleep is essential for the consolidation of autobiographical semantic memory, the research suggests.

In both groups, being older was associated with having a greater number of supergeneral autobiographical memories, while higher depression was linked to having worse semantic memory.

The results showed the need for more studies to better understand the role of untreated OSA in memory processing, Jackson said.

It is estimated that OSA affects more than 936 million people worldwide.

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