Do you snore? That loud, embarrassing sound happens when air can’t move freely through your nose and throat during sleep. It means that your breathing is partially obstructed, and it’s more than just annoying! Loud snoring is often a sign of obstructive sleep apnea – when you stop and start breathing while you sleep. What’s more, sleep apnea can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, a new innovation might slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s and even sharpen your memory: the myTAP oral device.
In a study published in the journal Geriatrics, researchers wanted to learn how snoring negatively affects breathing and cognitive function. They also wanted to test solutions. They found that the myTAP device significantly reduced snoring and improved mild cognitive impairment in many participants. (Mild cognitive impairment is an early stage of memory loss.)
What is the myTAP device?
At first glance, the myTAP device looks like a fancy mouth guard. But lead study author Preetam Schramm, Ph.D., assures Woman’s World that it is much more than that.
“The myTAP is an adjustable oral appliance that consists of two plastic trays that cover and are fitted to the upper and lower teeth,” says Dr. Schramm, a visiting scholar at the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry. “[It] acts by moving your lower jaw forward to increase the space in the back of your mouth … The forward jaw position reduces the possibility of the tongue collapsing towards the airway and restricting proper airflow. The increased space is expected to improve breathing during sleep and lessen snoring.
“This well-established design includes a midline screw apparatus that allows the user, under close dentist supervision, to gradually bring the lower jaw forward to a position that optimizes the airway and enables natural respiration during sleep.”
So, the myTAP not only reduces snoring immediately, but also gradually improves the position of the lower jaw to reduce obstructed breathing. A fitting takes place in as little as 15 minutes, which means patients can try it out on the same day.
The Link Between Snoring and the Onset of Alzheimer’s
A total of 18 participants completed the four-week study, which was conducted at the Center for BrainHealth, University of Texas at Dallas in collaboration with the Sleep Research Program at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry, also in Dallas. To be included in the research, volunteers had to be between 50 and 85 years old and have a history of snoring. All participants took neurocognitive tests, and roughly a third of them had mild cognitive impairment. Another third had Alzheimer’s.
Next, each participant received a custom myTAP device. The researchers instructed them to use it for four weeks for at least five hours every night. If snoring persisted, the participants were allowed to carefully adjust the midline screw 0.3 millimeters every two nights. This slowly improved the position of their jaw. Every participant also slept with a portable recorder that collected data on their breathing rate, heart rate, and snoring levels.
Upon analyzing the data, the team found that the participants’ breathing capacity indicated whether they had healthy brain function, mild cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer’s. In effect, having strong breathing capacity during uninterrupted sleep was linked to better brain function.
The myTAP device not only prevented snoring, but also improved breathing rates during sleep. Patients with mild cognitive impairment saw their memory and other brain functions improve. Patients with Alzheimer’s, however, didn’t see the same cognitive improvements with the myTAP.
Still, the researchers believe that the myTAP could slow the onset of Alzheimer’s. They pointed out that half of the participants with Alzheimer’s had better brain function by the end of the study. Forming new neural connections and strengthening old ones takes a long time, the team noted. So, patients with Alzheimer’s might need more time before they see improvement with a device like the myTAP.
Why might the myTAP slow the onset of Alzheimer’s?
Dr. Schramm points out that the myTAP device can improve a person’s quality of sleep, which is extremely important for brain health. Disruptive sleep prevents the brain from clearing out excess brain proteins, called amyloid and tau.
“Think of it as ‘wake-state’ creates trash (amyloid and tau),” says Dr. Schramm. “Only during stable non-REM sleep, trash trucks (cerebrospinal fluid) have access to remove the trash that was accumulated during wake. The trash piles up if stable sleep is reduced.
“Snoring and sleep apnea reduce stable non-REM sleep, which can directly impact wake trash removal. Snoring and sleep apnea prevention allows optimal wake trash clearance by increasing stable non-REM sleep – which results in improved memory and cognitive function.”
If you snore and think you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about getting tested. A doctor may prescribe the myTAP device or a CPAP machine, which gently pumps air into your nose or throat while you sleep. With a little extra help at night, you may improve not just the snoring, but also your mental sharpness!