About 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally slow breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Similarly, each abnormally slow breathing event is called a hypopnea.
Sleep apnea can have numerous effects on cognition in the waking state. Those with sleep apnea can have morning headaches, daytime fatigue, impaired reaction time, and vision problems which can make driving dangerous. Other effects include difficulty with information processing, judgment, and short term memory. These effects can severely affect one’s ability to stay attentive during the day.
Behavioral effects also accompany sleep apnea. Behaviors such as decreased vigilance and motivation as well as moodiness and aggressiveness can impact friendships and work relationships. Changes in behavior and intellectual processing due to sleep apnea can be very dangerous in many occupations, especially manual labor and machine operating.
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