Researchers in University of Boston observe that brain imaging sheds new light on the possible causes of sleep apnoea. In sleep apnoea, a person stops breathing, momentarily, many times during the night. The cause is often a weakening of the muscles at the back of the throat, causing upper airway obstruction. Sleep apnoea is often linked with snoring and, naturally, causes daytime sleepiness. It may also be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Researchers in the US have studied brain images from a group of 20 patients with sleep apnoea, comparing them with those from 20 healthy individuals. Those with the sleep disorder had an 15 per cent reduction in the grey matter volume in specific areas of the brain. These were the left frontal cortex, which controls upper airway function, and the cerebellum at the back of the brain, which controls heart and lung function. This raises the intriguing possibility that these changes may actually cause sleep apnoea, rather than resulting from the condition. In other words, the condition may have its origins in the brain.