How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Mental Health

Some of the most serious health conditions associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) are detected by measuring physical health and well-being. However, sleep apnea can also affect the mental health and well-being of many patients. If this is happening to you, you’re not alone.


Sleep apnea, if left untreated, takes such a large toll on your body every single day that it’s bound to not only impact you physically – it can also affect you mentally. When dealing with untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), you may struggle with grogginess and headaches every morning, and every night, when all you want is a good night’s rest, you’ll likely find that you’re unable to sleep soundly. This can result in a vicious cycle of daily fatigue and irritability. When you’re struggling to just get through each day and you’re unable to recharge properly at night, it’s no surprise that feelings of anxiety and depression can creep in. 


Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) causes episodes of decreased oxygen supply to the brain and other areas of the body, resulting in poor sleep quality. These pauses in breathing can prevent your brain from receiving the amount of oxygen it needs in order to function properly. Signs of the damage sleep apnea can cause includes difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and moodiness, making it harder to think clearly, remember things, and carry out daily tasks.

An associate professor at UCLA in Los Angeles, Paul Macey, studied two chemicals linked to sleep apnea that are found in the brain: glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These chemicals are found in the region of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, monitoring temperature and blood pressure, and even assisting with rational thought. 

While glutamate is associated with stress response to threats found in your environment, GABA acts as a mood inhibitor to keep you calm. Those with sleep apnea have been found to have very high levels of glutamate, and thus, when they experience stress, the brain doesn’t function well. Paired with this, those with sleep apnea have also been found to possess much lower levels of GABA – making it harder to relax and recharge. 

Macey’s findings suggest that brain function can indeed be significantly affected by Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Those who leave their OSA untreated may therefore experience a decrease in their mental well-being.


As we saw above, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can cause anxiety. Waking up continuously throughout the night, especially feeling as though you can’t breathe or that you’re choking, can become a conditioned response to other stimuli, and may therefore affect other areas of your life negatively. The excessive daytime sleepiness due to untreated sleep apnea can also lead to issues at work and/or within relationships.

Along with anxiety, sleep apnea has been linked to feelings of depression. Trouble sleeping, also known as insomnia, is a common symptom of depression, along with daytime drowsiness, moodiness, weight gain, and poor focus. Each of these symptoms can also be associated with sleep apnea. In addition, multiple studies have also noted the correlation between OSA and a higher prevalence of psychosis, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, which also present with similar symptoms.


For the most effective treatment, it’s important that you address both the physical and mental symptoms you may be experiencing as a result of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). If you’re struggling with any of those discussed above, talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea – easy, at-home sleep tests are available!

Once you receive a diagnosis, you may be a candidate for Oral Appliance Therapy with a SomnoMed device: a clinically proven, effective treatment for mild to moderate OSA. Many patients with depression and/or anxiety find that their symptoms lessen and their quality of life improves with effective sleep apnea treatment. If mental health issues persist, it’s important that you talk to your doctor about additional treatment paths available for you.

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Sources presence of OSA in,common in those with schizophrenia.


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