Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that millions of Americans suffer from. What’s even worse is that 80% are undiagnosed and even more people aren’t receiving treatment. Putting off sleep apnea treatment can threaten your quality of life, put you at risk for severe health issues such as heart attacks and strokes, and harm your mental health.

At Bite Align, we help those who are diagnosed with sleep apnea find a treatment that works for their needs to help improve both physical and mental health. Discover what happens to your mental health when you leave sleep apnea untreated.

woman falling asleep at her laptop while working

What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when the upper airway collapses during sleep and blocks the airway, restricts breathing, and reduces oxygen intake. Sufferers experience these episodes hundreds of times throughout the night and when each occurs, they wake up to catch their breath. The constant episodes prevent one from experiencing the restorative deep sleep needed for proper restoration.

Sleep apnea can cause symptoms such as:

  • Loud snoring
  • Choking, gasping, snorting, coughing noises during sleep
  • Stops in breathing
  • Morning headaches
  • Low energy after resting a full night
  • Dozing off during the day
  • Loss of focus or motivation
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Restless sleep
  • Teeth clenching
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Decreased sex drive

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, we strongly encourage you to seek a diagnosis by taking a sleep test. We can help connect you with a sleep testing service whether you decide to take it in a sleep lab or in the comfort of your own home. Once you receive a diagnosis, we can move forward with discussing treatment options.

Untreated Sleep Apnea Alters Brain Chemicals and Hormones

When you leave sleep apnea untreated, you will experience a wide range of physical and mental symptoms. One of the reasons for the change in mental state is because untreated sleep apnea can alter brain chemicals and hormones.

For instance, an associate professor at UCLA discovered that sleep apnea altered two chemicals: glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These chemicals are found in the region of the brain known as the insula. Insula regulates emotions, assists with rational thoughts, and also monitors temperature and blood pressure. Tied to stress, glutamate helps you respond to environmental threats and GABA is a mood inhibitor, which helps keep you calm.

Those with untreated sleep apnea tend to have high levels of glutamate and significantly low levels of GABA. This means they tend to experience more stress but their brain doesn’t know how to manage it. They find it difficult to relax, recharge and rest.

Increased Risk of Mental Health Disorders

In addition to messing with brain chemicals, untreated sleep apnea also raises the risk for several mental health disorders including

  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

When sleep apnea wakes you up repeatedly throughout the night because you can’t breathe properly, it’s no wonder it can increase anxiety. Your body is deprived of oxygen hundreds of times throughout the night which causes immense stress on the brain as well as the body. This anxiety that occurs during sleep can carry over into your life when you’re awake and affect your career, relationships, and overall mood.

In addition to anxiety, untreated sleep apnea is also linked to increased levels of depression. Sleep apnea causes symptoms like feeling exhausted all the time, having poor focus, mood swings, and gaining weight—these are also symptoms of depression. By treating sleep apnea, it can reduce the symptoms of depression and in some cases cure your depression.

Lastly, since sleep apnea can change your brain, it only makes sense that it’s linked to schizophrenia, a brain-related disorder. People with schizophrenia are 6 times more likely to have sleep apnea than those without.

When sleep apnea is left untreated, people have the following increased odds of mental problems according to a study:

  • 3.11x increased risk of depression
  • 3.68x increased risk of anxiety
  • 2.88x increased risk of severe psychological distress
  • 2.75x increased risk of suicide ideation

In the same study that discovered these odds, they also found that those with sleep apnea have less support and access to mental healthcare.

Improve Your Mental Health With Sleep Apnea Treatment in Fort Atkinson

If your mental health is suffering and you have some of the symptoms of sleep apnea, it might be a good idea to take a sleep test. If you receive a positive diagnosis, Dr. Stafford can help you find a sleep apnea treatment that works for you. Once you start using treatment consistently, your symptoms will begin to go away and your mental health will improve.

What do you have to lose? Contact Bite Align for sleep apnea treatment in Fort Atkinson today by calling (920) 563-7323.