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How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Mental Health

How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Mental Health

Sleep Apnea has a number of physical side effects, but many people don’t realize that it can have a negative impact on their mental health as well.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which causes sufferers to experience pauses in breathing during sleep, resulting in their waking frequently, snoring loudly, and experiencing disturbances in their dreams.

Sleep Apnea is also potentially life-threatening, since it can interfere with the brain’s oxygen supply.

People who have sleep apnea don’t just have its physical health problems to contend with, they may also experience mental health challenges.


A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people suffering from sleep apnea are more likely to experience depression than the general population is.

Several studies have shown that poor sleep, and lack of sleep are linked to depression. It's believed that the stress that comes from having a serious medical condition like sleep apnea can also result in depression in some people.

Sleep apnea is likely to interfere with mental health because it potentially reduces oxygen supply to the brain during sleep. This reduced oxygen supply can affect brain function and in turn increase the sleep apnea sufferer's likelihood of developing depression.


The possibility of uncontrollable breathing problems during sleep can cause severe anxiety for some sufferers, and this anxiety, in turn, can make sleep problems even worse. Since sleep deprivation can contribute to both depression and anxiety, a vicious cycle often develops for individuals with sleep apnea.

Relationship Problems

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. 

No matter how supportive the partner may be, they may just not be able to sleep with sleep apnea-related snoring going on right beside them, and resort to sleeping in a separate bedroom. Unfortunately, this decreases opportunities for intimacy, leading to greater relationship dissatisfaction and more stress for both parties.

Changes in Dreams

Many mental health professionals believe that dreaming is how the brain processes the previous day's events, and encodes memories.

Sleep apnea sufferers may not be able to enter the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep state required for this essential kind of dreaming due to the number of times their sleep is disturbed and they are awakened.

People who are unable to enter or remain in REM sleep experience a number of mental health problems, ranging from anxiety to memory problems.

Cognitive Impairment

People with sleep apnea become increasingly tired during the day, and can have difficulties focusing on important day-to-day tasks, including job-related tasks.

Lack of sleep is also known to significantly alter mood, making people with sleep apnea jumpy or irritable, 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 interconnected. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments available for sleep apnea.

If you're suffering from sleep apnea (or think you are), please don’t hesitate to contact our Surrey office to book an assessment with one of our dentists.

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