How Does Sleep Apnea Contribute to Anxiety?

We’ve detailed how untreated obstructive sleep apnea can contribute to a host of issues ranging from cardiovascular disease to glaucoma to generalized brain damage.  Now add anxiety to the list.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by interrupted breathing while asleep, ranging from excessive snoring all the way to periods of not breathing at all. This can have all kinds of highly damaging psychological side effects, such as increased anxiety.

  • Sleep disruption: Sleep apnea can cause repeated awakenings during the night, which can lead to poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. This lack of restful sleep can contribute to feelings of anxiety, as the body is not able to fully recover and recharge during the night.
  • Hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen in the body, is a common feature of sleep apnea. When oxygen levels in the body drop, it can trigger a stress response, leading to feelings of anxiety and panic.
  • Brain changes: Sleep apnea can also lead to changes in the brain, including alterations in the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These changes can contribute to mood disorders like anxiety.
  • Poor concentration: Sleep apnea can also lead to poor concentration and memory problems, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

It’s worth noting that anxiety can also be a risk factor for sleep apnea. Anxiety can lead to changes in breathing patterns and increased muscle tension in the upper airway, both of which can contribute to sleep apnea.  In fact, we’ve gone so far as to use the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 screening test as part of our intake for new patients.  If a patient is diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, tools like the GAD-7 can help us to understand how severe it is from a psychological perspective.

Sleep apnea and anxiety can feed off of one another in really bad ways.  If you think you’re suffering from sleep apnea, contact us and get tested.