5 Surprising Ways Sleep Apnea Impacts Your Mood and Emotions

Sleep apnea doesn't just make you tired.

Unseen Consequences of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a sleep-disordered breathing condition associated with disruptive snoring and restless nights, has far-reaching effects that extend beyond the bedroom, impacting your mood and emotions in ways you may not realize. It’s more than just an annoyance for you and possibly your partner; it’s a serious health problem that can lead to emotional instability and mood changes.

There are primarily two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), characterized by the relaxation of throat muscles, and central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles controlling your breathing. OSA is by and large the most common type, with symptoms including loud snoring, episodes of breathing cessation, shortness of breath, insomnia, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Today, we will dive deeper into the unseen consequences of sleep apnea and explore how visiting your dentist is an important step in managing this condition.

1. Mood Swings and Irritability

Disrupted sleep patterns due to untreated sleep apnea significantly contribute to mood swings and heightened irritability. When your breathing is momentarily stopped (as in apnea) or gets shallow (as in hypopnea), your body cannot enter the deeper, restorative phases of sleep. This means that even though you may be sleeping for an adequate number of hours, the quality of your sleep is compromised, leading to persistent sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is linked to a host of cognitive and emotional disturbances, including increased irritability. The brain’s emotional processing network, particularly the amygdala, shows heightened reactivity under conditions of sleep loss, contributing to exaggerated emotional responses and mood swings.

Research has shown that people experiencing poor quality sleep due to sleep disorders like sleep apnea demonstrate increased irritability and emotional volatility, much like individuals experiencing significant sleep deprivation. Managing sleep apnea, therefore, is crucial not just for physical health but also for maintaining emotional balance and mental well-being.

2. Increased Anxiety and Stress

Sleep apnea-related sleep disruptions are also known to exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Sleep is a critical period for our brain to process emotions and consolidate memories, and when this process is interrupted due to sleep apnea, it can result in increased anxiety levels. A study published in Sleep and Breathing found a strong correlation between sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea, and anxiety disorders.

Chronic stress can also be a by-product of ongoing sleep disruptions caused by sleep apnea. Stress and sleep are closely connected: Just as stress can lead to disrupted sleep, poor quality sleep can result in heightened stress levels. According to a report by the American Psychological Association, adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours. When such sleep disruptions become a regular occurrence due to sleep apnea, it can lead to chronic stress, further exacerbating the emotional and cognitive impacts of this sleep disorder. 

3. Impaired Cognitive Function

Sleep apnea significantly impacts cognitive abilities, particularly memory and concentration. The recurrent episodes of oxygen desaturation during sleep, a key characteristic of sleep apnea, can lead to considerable cognitive impairment. According to a study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission, individuals with untreated sleep apnea showed diminished attention, memory, and executive functioning.

The relationship between sleep apnea and cognitive dysfunction extends to the realm of decision-making and problem-solving as well. Fragmented sleep, another common occurrence in sleep apnea, is associated with both of these issues. Studies have found that interrupted sleep patterns can hinder cognitive flexibility and the ability to adjust to situational changes, both crucial for effective problem-solving and decision-making.

The cognitive effects of sleep apnea serve as a stark reminder of the importance of seeking treatment for sleep-disordered breathing. 

4. Depression and Emotion Well-Being

Sleep apnea and depression often share a complex, bidirectional relationship. The ongoing sleep disruption caused by apnea can take a significant toll on emotional well-being, leading to heightened symptoms of depression. Moreover, the chronic fatigue associated with sleep apnea can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and disinterest, hallmark symptoms of depression.

The role of sleep quality in emotional health cannot be overstated. Sleep acts as a restorative process for the mind, allowing for the clearing of neural pathways and the consolidation of emotional memories. With sleep apnea interrupting these crucial processes, emotional turbulence can ensue, resulting in mood swings, heightened emotional reactions, and an overall diminished emotional well-being.

Understanding the tie between sleep apnea and depression can be transformative for patients undergoing treatment. This link underscores the importance of seeking effective treatment options for sleep-disordered breathing, such as dental interventions, to improve sleep quality. 

5. Social Withdrawal and Relationship Strain

Individuals experiencing mood fluctuations exacerbated by sleep apnea might find social interactions more challenging. Their capacity to manage interpersonal conflict, display empathy, or simply engage in social activities might be compromised. This can lead to a vicious cycle of social isolation, further feeding into feelings of depression and emotional distress.

Furthermore, these mood-related issues can create tension in personal relationships. For instance, irritability and short temper, common in individuals with sleep apnea, can lead to conflicts and misunderstandings with loved ones. The individual’s irregular sleep patterns and snoring can also directly affect the sleep quality of a partner, adding another layer of strain to relationships.

Dental interventions for managing sleep apnea can be a game-changer, not just in improving sleep quality but also in enhancing mood stability and social functioning, thereby improving the quality of life for patients and their loved ones.

Hite Family Dentistry can help you manage sleep apnea. 

Sleep apnea is not just a matter of disrupted sleep; it’s a condition that can significantly affect mood, emotions, and social interactions. However, once professionally diagnosed, it’s a condition that you can successfully manage, and Hite Family Dentistry is fully equipped to assist you on this journey.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are a common and effective treatment prescribed by doctors that helps keep your airway open while you sleep. For those who find CPAP machines uncomfortable or intrusive, we offer solutions in the form of oral sleep appliances. These include occlusal splints and nightguards, which are custom-made devices designed to keep your airway open.

At Hite Family Dentistry, we understand the link between sleep apnea and mood, and we’re committed to helping you improve your sleep quality and, with it, your emotional well-being. Don’t let sleep apnea control your life. Let us help you manage it and reclaim your restful nights and joyful days by scheduling an appointment at our Edwardsville dental practice today.