The brain mechanism that regulates breathing muscles during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep has been identified, and it may provide clues for developing new treatments for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and other sleep-related respiratory problems.
The research relating to the discovery of the brain mechanism will be published in the upcoming issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, which is the publication of the American Thoracic Society. During REM sleep, you experience inhibited muscle activity, including a near-paralysis of the muscles related to breathing, which can contribute to snoring and other breathing problems during sleep.
Among these problems are the breathing interruptions known as apneas, in which a person’s breathing stops for seconds at a time multiple times per hour. These episodes are the hallmark of OSA, a dangerous sleep disorder that can increase your risk for high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack, among other health concerns.
To determine the brain mechanism responsible for controlling breathing muscles, researchers studied rats through multiple sleep-wake cycles and focused on the brain region that controls the tongue during sleep. The tongue was key, because an active tongue can maintain an open airway while an inhibited tongue can slack during sleep and contribute to the airway blockage that contributes to sleep apnea.
The identification of the brain mechanism and chemicals that play a role in regulating breathing muscle activity may lead to new treatment methods that target the primary source of OSA and other breathing-related sleep disorders.
If you or your partner suffers from loud, chronic snoring or other sleep apnea symptoms, a dentist with experience in the field of dental sleep medicine can help you determine the source of the condition and recommend an individualized treatment plan, such as the use of a custom-made oral appliance.