The Link Between Sleep Apnea, Anxiety, and Depression

Obstructive sleep apnea has been identified as a serious medical sleep disorder affecting millions of Americans, often without their knowledge. These individuals awake each morning tired, achy, depressed, and confused about why they can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep, in spite of going to bed early. They overreact, lose their temper, cry more frequently, and can become irrational.

The word apnea translates to “without breath”. Individuals with sleep apnea tend to lose their ability to breathe as they sleep, due to a collapsing airway. This sleep disorder means the individual must wake up momentarily after going without oxygen for too long. When this happens minute by minute, hour by hour, night after night, the effects can be devastating, both mentally and physically. The problem is not the number of hours of sleep they get each night bipap. The problem is the number of times they wake up each night to start breathing again.

Sleep deprivation, as any new parent can tell you, can be a highly destructive and tortuous situation. Being woken up again and again throughout the night makes it impossible for your mind or your body to get the rest needed to function properly. To complicate matters even more, the brains of sleep deprived individuals end up with an over stimulated amygdala, which shuts down the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the center for logical reasoning and the source of calming chemicals. The amygdala, on the other hand, is the Lizard Brain that initiates the “fight or flight” response.

To prepare for perceived conflicts, the amygdala releases chemicals that increase heart rate, glucose levels, and blood pressure. Being constantly “on alert” drains the mental and physical resources of the person suffering form sleep apnea. In contrast, individuals who are able to sleep through the night, both due to healthy airways or the use of CPAP machines or BIPAP machines, are able to think rationally, awake rested, and control their emotions.


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