Sleep apnea is nothing new. This condition has plagued millions of people. People with this sleep disorder have periodic pauses in breathing during sleep – But there could be new research to help those affected by the disorder.
Through a great amount of research, scientists are now learning more and more about the signals that regulate how we breathe during sleep, specifically, when oxygen levels are low. The research study could lead to new treatments. It could be the breakthrough that those with the disorder, called central sleep apnea, have been waiting for all along.
The study found insights that could also lead to new interventions to help people adapt to sleeping at higher altitudes. Sleeping at higher altitudes can be difficult, as there is reduced oxygen levels, which can cause sleep disordered breathing, even in fit and healthy people.
Central sleep apnea happens when there is a flaw in the communication between the brain and the body. The signals that instruct the body to breathe don’t get through correctly. This causes problems as, suddenly, the body forgets to breathe because the brain is no longer able to send commands to the body.
The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, and their researchers, used genetically modified mice to show that an enzyme called AMPK helps us to breathe faster when oxygen levels are low. These mice do not produce AMPK on their own in the specialized cells that send signals to support breathing when oxygen availability falls. The team found that the animals showed similar symptoms to people with central sleep apnea, in that, they also start failing to breathe faster in response to low oxygen environments. The animals in the study were otherwise healthy. They showed no other breathing difficulties under normal situations, when they were being unaffected by the study.
Central sleep apnea has been known to affect many people, but especially those with obesity and/or type 2 diabetes. The apnea can cause snoring, loss in memory capacity, high blood pressure, and lapses into sleep during the day and even during daily activities.
Professor Mark Evans, of the University’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, said: “Our findings identify exciting new avenues for the treatment of sleep disordered breathing, because drugs that mimic AMPK activation could restore normal breathing patterns in people suffering from this disease. Mice with AMPK deficiencies could also prove useful for helping us to identify such therapies.”
Amberley Stephens has been a freelance writer since 2008. She graduated from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, in May of 2013, with a B.A. in English Language and Literature and a minor in Creative Writing. She has since continued her work as a freelance writer.