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How Sleep Apnea Affects Mental Health

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How Sleep Apnea Affects Mental Health

Sleep Apnea has several 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. It causes sufferers to experience pauses in breathing during sleep, which result 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.

But 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 conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who have sleep apnea are more likely to experience depression than the general population is.

This is because poor sleep and lack of sleep are linked to depression, and the stress that comes from having a serious medical condition like sleep apnea can also cause depression in some people.

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


The threat of uncontrollable breathing problems during sleep can cause severe anxiety, and this anxiety, in turn, can make sleep problems worse. Since sleep deprivation can contribute to both depression and anxiety, a vicious cycle can often develop for those with sleep apnea.

Relationship Problems

Many people only discover that they have sleep apnea when their sleep partner notices it because it wakes them up at night.

However supportive the partner may be, they may just not be able to sleep with sleep apnea-related snoring going on right beside them, and end up sleeping in a separate bedroom. This decreases opportunities for intimacy, leading to greater relationship dissatisfaction and stress for both parties.

Changes in Dreams

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

Because people with sleep apnea awaken so often during sleep, they may not be able to enter the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep state required for this kind of dreaming.

People who don't 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 may become increasingly exhausted during the day, and can have difficulties focusing on important day-to-day tasks, including job-related ones.

Lack of sleep can also 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 connected to one another. Fortunately, there are various effective treatments for sleep apnea available.

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

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