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Sleep Apnea Can Constantly Wake You

Even During Sleep, Disordered Breathing Rouses Brain
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Feb. 4, 2004 -- People with sleep apnea may be getting even less sleep than they think.

During sleep-disordered breathing, a person's airway closes during the night. These breathing pauses -- called sleep apnea -- mean waking many times during the night. That's bad enough. But now it looks as though the brain wakes up a little even when a person with sleep-disordered breathing isn't struggling for air.

Ronald D. Chervin, MD, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues noted that people with sleep apnea suffer daytime drowsiness even after they seemed to get a relatively good night's sleep. They suspected that changes in breathing too small to be seen might somehow affect sleep.

Chervin, together with the Altarum Institute, developed (and patented) a computer program to measure brain wave changes during each breath a sleeping person takes. They tested the program on 10 children aged 6 to 10 years old. Half the kids had sleep-disordered breathing.

Their finding, reported in the February issue of the journal Sleep, showed kids with sleep apnea had unusual brain activity at different phases of their breathing cycles.

"Maybe every snore or difficult breath is actually arousing the brain to some small extent," Chervin says in a news release. "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 that can only be detected by computers."

The researchers are now honing their computer program and testing more people in order to develop a clinical test.

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