When I think of sleep apnea, the first thing that comes to mind is snoring. People, and animals, that have sleep apnea periodically stop breathing when they are sleeping and wake up when their brain senses the drop in oxygen. Understandably, people with sleep apnea often feel tired and have difficulty concentrating. Just imagine having your sleep interrupted night after night. Because of the changes in blood oxygen, people with sleep apnea often develop inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
This week, the I Spy Physiology blog featured research conducted by Kaitlin Allen, a PhD student in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is working in the laboratory of Dr. Jose Pablo Vazquez-Medina where she is exploring sleep apnea in elephant seals. Like people, blood oxygen levels decrease in elephant seals during sleep apnea. Unlike people, however, elephant seals have some unique adaptations that help protect them from cardiovascular disease. You can learn more about their cool adaptations on the I Spy Physiology blog.
Just in case you have never have the pleasure of seeing (and hearing) an elephant seal sleep, here is a YouTube video: