The Silent Struggle: Sleep Apnea Might Be Affecting Your Mental Health

Sleep apnea can affect your mental health.

It’s a well-known fact that sleep impacts your mood. Your brain activity fluctuates while you sleep, increasing or decreasing as you move through the phases of the sleep cycle. Each stage significantly influences your brain health, helping you think, learn, and remember things better.

The amount of sleep you get profoundly affects your mental health. That’s why those who suffer from sleep apnea face more challenges surrounding their mental well-being than people without the disorder.

Understanding Sleep Apnea and Its Prevalence

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that causes you to stop breathing throughout sleep. Approximately 1 in 15 Americans has a form of sleep apnea, and two to four percent of cases go undiagnosed. Most people with this condition experience loud snoring and daytime tiredness. Sleep apnea can be divided into two categories—obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airways at the back of the throat narrow as you sleep, disrupting your breathing. This constriction may cause you to wake up gasping for air. OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) breathing disruptions occur because there is a lack of communication between the brain and your breathing muscles. You may experience insomnia and find it challenging to concentrate on routine activities.

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Mental Health

Getting adequate high-quality sleep promotes positive cognitive function and emotional regulation. A lack of sleep leads to poor academic and intellectual performance and decreases productivity at work. The mental effects of poor sleep create a variety of safety risks, such as when driving a car.

Other short-term impacts of sleep deprivation include: 

  • Poor attention span
  • Daytime drowsiness 
  • Inability to adapt to changing circumstances 
  • Reduced emotional capacity
  • More risky choices 

Without enough sleep, the standard method of processing and consolidating emotions becomes compromised.

Oxygen Deprivation and Its Effects on the Brain

Pauses in breathing at night can prevent your body from supplying enough oxygen to the brain. A continual oxygen depletion starts to impact the brain chemically. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a crucial brain chemical that supports healthy brain function and communication via brain cells. A lack of oxygen reduces GABA, leading to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

Disrupting the Sleep-Wake Cycle

Our bodies have an internal clock that helps us complete many functions and processes. This clock is known as the sleep-wake cycle or the circadian rhythm. The sleep-wake cycle signals your brain and body when it’s time to wake up or sleep. But when it’s out of sync, your body doesn’t receive the signals that produce melatonin when you need sleep.

As a result, you may notice yourself:

  • Struggling to sleep 
  • Dealing with insomnia 
  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Getting up before your alarm clock

These problems continue to disrupt your sleeping patterns. In turn, you may have low energy and feel fatigued the next day. They also decrease your ability to concentrate.

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Depression

One study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that the likelihood of depression increases the more a person snorts or stops breathing while they sleep. Gasping, snorting, and pauses in breathing while sleeping are all signs of OSA. However, these conditions may have a bidirectional relationship.

A bidirectional relationship means that each condition influences the development of the other. Someone with sleep apnea may begin feeling depressed because of the impact of disrupted sleep. But that depression then worsens their sleep apnea. These conditions have overlapping symptoms, like poor concentration, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue.

For many, the first step is to get a sleep apnea diagnosis and proper treatment. It is then your symptoms of depression may resolve.

Addressing Sleep Apnea for Improved Mental Health

It is crucial to recognize sleep apnea symptoms and seek a proper diagnosis and treatment before the condition causes your mental health to deteriorate. Some signs to be on the lookout for include:

  • Dry mouth upon waking up
  • Morning headaches
  • Gasping for air during sleep 
  • Trouble staying asleep 
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability 
  • Loud snoring

If your partner tells you that you stop breathing while asleep, seek immediate help from a qualified professional. Many effective treatment options include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, and lifestyle modifications.

Get help for sleep apnea at your family dentist in Boise, ID.

Loud snoring can indicate a severe problem. However, not everyone who snores will get a sleep apnea diagnosis. If you’re concerned about your snoring or have other symptoms of sleep disorders, make a dental appointment with Staley Dental. We will conduct a thorough evaluation and explain your treatment options. As a result, you’ll no longer have to deal with these disruptions to the overall quality of your life. We’ll find a treatment option that works for you. Call Staley Dental and book an appointment today.