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Sleep Apnea Disrupts Brain Waves All Night Long

Researchers say finding could help doctors pinpoint those who really needs help

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 11, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- People with sleep apnea may experience numerous subtle brain wave disturbances through the night, suggest two reports in the February issue of Sleep.

University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) researchers found the first evidence that on average, brain waves change with each breath, not just the short periods of the night when a person experiences sleep apnea.

This suggests a potential new approach in sleep research that could help doctors predict who will suffer sleep apnea-related consequences, such as daytimes sleepiness in adults or hyperactivity in children, and who will will respond to treatment.

The UMHS researchers worked with engineers to develop a computer program that measures the extent to which brain activity varies, on average, with the breathing cycle while a person sleeps. These two studies describe initial tests of the computer program on children with sleep apnea. Further testing is underway.

"This could give us insight into the physiology of how sleep apnea causes sleep disruption, daytime sleepiness, attention deficit and behavioral problems," researcher Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at UMHS.

"Currently, we think sleepiness arises because apneas cause arousals that we can easily see in brain wave patterns. Maybe these obvious, full arousals are less important than thousands of briefer arousals, or microarousals, that can only be detected by computers. If we could prove this, we might improve our ability to identify who has a serious sleep and breathing problem and who might benefit from treatment," Chervin says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about sleep apnea.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, Feb. 3, 2004
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