Snoring can be more than a nuisance to those who sleep near you. It can be a sign of a common and potentially serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Numerous studies show that sleep apnea, when your breathing is continually interrupted while you sleep, is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat collapse, blocking your airway temporarily and stopping your breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. This breathing interruption occurs throughout the night, usually without you even knowing it, depriving you of oxygen and leaving you tired and unfocused the next day.  

Anyone can get sleep apnea, but it is more prevalent in older people and men. Other risk factors of developing sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight

  • Smoking

  • Drinking alcohol 

  • Having a family history of sleep apnea

While sleep apnea is common, affecting 6% to 17% of the general population and almost half of older adults, most cases are undiagnosed. How do you know if you should get tested for sleep apnea? If you’re not aware of a snoring problem, see your doctor if you notice these symptoms:  

  • Daytime sleepiness

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Dry mouth at night 

The good news is that the most common treatment for sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP), is effective at keeping your airways open while you sleep. Better still, managing sleep apnea with CPAP is associated with lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. If you think you may have sleep apnea, it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis and effective treatment plan.