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A Pill Instead of CPAP for Sleep Apnea?

Posted Mar 12 2013 7:37am

Here’s another study finding  and accompanying article that offers hope of perhaps finding a “pill” for obstructive sleep apnea, rather than the conventional options the we currently have available (CPAP, dental options, and surgery). The researchers identified one of the main mechanisms of the switch that turns off muscle tone when you’re in REM sleep (the dreaming state). As mentioned in past posts and teleseminars, apneas and hypopneas are most common in stage REM, when your muscles are most relaxed. The study researchers found a way to reverse this process in rats.

The problem is that rats may have REM sleep, but they don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, since they can’t talk. Modern humans’ unique ability to talk and communicate created upper airway anatomy that predisposes to upper airway obstruction. The other problem is that REM sleep stimulates brain areas that are needed for learning and memory consolidation. Human infants spend 50% of their sleep time in REM sleep.

If you give a pill to block the muscle paralyzing process that happens in REM sleep, then you’ll end up moving around, talking and acting your your dreams. Your brain is wide awake during REM sleep, but with your muscle relaxed (except for the eyes and the diaphragm). This is probably not a good idea. There’s even a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, where due to brain damage in areas that affect this particular switch, older men act out their dreams during REM sleep. This condition has a high association with developing Parkinson’s disease later in life.

Lastly many of the anti-depressant medications that are are prescribed diminish REM sleep, thereby lessening time spent in REM sleep. This could lead to improved mood, since you’re not having as many apneas.

Unfortunately, I don’t ever see a pill in the future that can truly compete with the three mainstream options already mentioned. As stated before, obstructive sleep apnea is an anatomic and craniofacial problem, and not directly a biochemical problem.

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