‘Dying in sleep’ linked to sleep apnea – study

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – People who die in their sleep may stop breathing because they have lost too many brain cells, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

Sleep apnea — a condition in which people stop breathing for long stretches of time in their sleep — may sometimes be caused by the destruction of cells in the brain stem, where autonomic functions such as breathing are controlled, they said.

Tests on rats showed that the loss of key brain stem cells that die off with age caused such disrupted sleep that the animals eventually stopped breathing completely.

The same thing may be happening in elderly people, said neurobiologist Jack Feldman of the University of California Los Angeles.

“We wanted to reveal the mechanism behind central sleep apnea, which most commonly affects people after age 65,” Feldman said in a statement.

“Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, in which a person stops breathing when their airway collapses, central sleep apnea is triggered by something going awry in the brain’s breathing center.

“Our research suggests that the pre-Boetzinger complex contains a fixed number of neurons that we lose as we age,” Feldman said.

“We speculate that our brains can compensate for up to a 60 percent loss of pre-Boetzinger cells, but the cumulative deficit of these brain cells eventually disrupts our breathing during sleep. There’s no biological reason for the body to maintain these cells beyond the average lifespan, and so they do not replenish as we age,” said Feldman.

“As we lose them, we grow more prone to central sleep apnea.”

And weaker people may not be able to rouse themselves when this happens. They simply stop breathing.”

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  1. Assorted Babble by Suzie August 10, 2005 at 1:54 am

    They say it is more common than people know! Amazing! Only about seven years ago I heard about it, and in the last 3 it has been a big topic. Curious myself…on that sleep study…

    Thanks for commenting back! (smiling)

  2. Assorted Babble by Suzie August 9, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Hey, I have definitely lost BRAIN CELLS! (smiling) Probably not a joking matter. Now since I have this serious heart condition, they say I may have sleep apnea too. I be darn though if I am going to sleep with that machine.

    It does not surprise me though with all they tell me is wrong, because I have sleeping disorders too…who the heck knows….for sure what is really UP!

    Only in the 40’s but wow! What all doctors can find wrong with you is amazing!

    Very imformative post, enjoyed reading it. Thanks for this info.
    (smiling) Wishing you the Best!

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