Sleep Apnea has a variety of physical effects on the body, but many people don’t realize that it can have a negative impact on mental health as well.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can cause sufferers to awaken frequently, snore loudly, and experience disturbances in their dreams. Sleep Apnea is also potentially life-threatening, since it can interfere with the brain’s oxygen supply.
But people with sleep apnea don’t just have its physical effects to contend with. They may also experience mental health challenges.
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that individuals with sleep apnea were more likely to experience depression than the general population.
Poor sleep or lack of sleep is linked to depression, and the stress of having a serious medical condition like sleep apnea can also cause depression in some people.
In addition, sleep apnea is particularly likely to interfere with mental health because it reduces oxygen supply to the brain during sleep. This can alter brain function and thereby increase one’s likelihood of developing depression.
The fact sleep apnea affects people while they’re sleeping—a time the brain and body are supposed to be resting—can be particularly problematic.
The threat of breathing problems can cause severe anxiety, and this anxiety, in turn, can make sleep problems worse. And since sleep deprivation can contribute to both depression and anxiety, a vicious cycle can often develop for those with sleep apnea.
Many people only discover that they have sleep apnea thanks to their sleep partner, who notices it because it wakes them up at night as well.
However supportive the partner may be, they may simply be unable to sleep with sleep apnea-related snoring happening right beside them, and end up sleeping in a separate bedroom. This can decrease opportunities for intimacy, leading to greater relationship dissatisfaction and stress for both parties.
Changes in Dreams
Many mental health professionals believe that dreaming allows the brain to process the events of the previous day, and to encode memories.
Because people with sleep apnea awaken frequently during sleep, they may not be able to enter the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep state required for dreaming.
People who do not enter or remain in REM sleep experience a number of mental health problems, ranging from anxiety to memory problems.
People who have sleep apnea may become increasingly exhausted during the day, and can have difficulties focusing on important tasks, including job-related activities.
Lack of sleep can also alter mood, making people with sleep apnea jumpy or quick-tempered, and making it difficult for them to effectively navigate the normal day-to-day challenges.
As you can see, many of the mental health problems that are associated with sleep apnea are connected to one another. Fortunately, there are various effective treatments for sleep apnea available.