Most people are aware that 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 snore loudly, awaken frequently, and experience disturbances in their dreams. Sleep Apnea can interfere with the brain's oxygen supply making the disorder potentially life-threatening.
People with sleep apnea don’t just have its physical effects to contend with, they may also experience mental health challenges.
A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found that individuals with sleep apnea were more likely to experience depression than the general population.
Lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, is linked to depression. The stress of having a serious medical condition like sleep apnea can also cause depression in some people.
Additionally, sleep apnea is likely to interfere with mental health because it reduces oxygen supply to the brain during sleep. This reduced oxygen supply can alter brain function and thereby increase one’s likelihood of developing depression.
The fact that sleep apnea affects people while they’re sleeping—a time the brain and body are supposed to be resting—causes the disorder to be particularly problematic.
The threat of breathing problems can cause severe anxiety, and this anxiety, in turn, can make sleep problems even worse. Sleep deprivation is known to contribute to both depression and anxiety, a vicious cycle can develop for those with sleep apnea.
Many people discover that they have sleep apnea thanks to their sleep partner, who notices it because it wakes them up at night as well.
Regardless of how supportive the partner may be, they may simply be unable to sleep due to the sleep apnea-related snoring happening right beside them, and end up sleeping in a separate bedroom. This separation at night decreases opportunities for intimacy, leading to greater relationship dissatisfaction and stress for both parties.
Changes in Dreams
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.
Many mental health professionals believe that dreaming allows the brain to process the events of the previous day, and to encode memories.
People who do not enter or remain in REM sleep experience a number of mental health problems, ranging from memory problems to anxiety.
People who have sleep apnea often become increasingly exhausted during the day, and can have difficulties focusing on important tasks, including job-related activities.
Lack of sleep is also known to alter mood, causing people with sleep apnea to be jumpy or quick-tempered, and making it difficult for them to effectively navigate the normal day-to-day challenges.
Clearly, many of the mental health problems that are associated with sleep apnea are connected to each other. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments for sleep apnea available.