NYU researchers put 18 patients suffering from severe sleep apnea through their paces, concluding that the subjects took longer to complete a 3D maze when sleep apnea disrupted the REM stage of sleep. The limited study out of NYU Langone Medical Center also determined that sleep apnea may affect the ability to form new spatial memories, such as remembering where a car is parked.
The study titled “Apnea-Induced Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Disruption Impairs Human Spatial Navigational Memory“, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrates through the playing of a specific video game that disruption of REM sleep as a consequence of sleep apnea impairs spatial memory in humans even when other sleep stages are intact.
Spatial memory is utilized for everyday tasks, such as remembering the location of a favorite restaurant, remembering how to get home even if you are required to take a detour from your typical route, or remembering where you left an item in your house. This type of memory is particularly affected in Alzheimer disease, and often is the root cause of why afflicted individuals are often found wandering lost by caregivers.
The research was led by Andrew Varga, MD, PhD, clinical instructor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at NYU Langone and an attending physician in NYU’s Sleep Disorders Center.
“We’ve shown for the first time that sleep apnea, an increasingly common medical condition, might negatively impact formation of certain memories, even when the apnea is limited to REM sleep,” said Varga. “Our findings suggest memory loss might be an additional symptom for clinicians to screen for in their patients with sleep apnea.”