Sleep Apnea and Mental Health

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Your body needs sleep to repair itself and give you energy. Naturally, interrupting sleep can have very serious health consequences! If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, your body’s natural sleep cycle is interrupted multiple times each night when you temporarily stop breathing.

We’ve talked in the past about the effects of sleep apnea on your physical health: it can lead to heart problems, obesity, and diabetes. But sleep apnea also correlates strongly with mental health issues. Today we’d like to discuss those.

Cognitive Ability

Research from UCLA illustrates how sleep apnea can affect your cognitive functioning. The problem comes down to two brain chemicals: glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. These chemicals hang out in your insula, a part of the brain that sort of acts like a train crossing: it coordinates signals from other parts of the brain.

GABA acts as a sort of calming agent, whereas glutamate has the opposite effect. Sleep apnea patients often have elevated levels of glutamate, which stresses the brain and clogs up that train crossing in the insula.


There is evidence that suggests OSA can cause depression. According to a 2017 study, 44 out of 47 depressed subjects had an abnormal polysomnogram, a sleep test that measures oxygen levels and other data while you sleep.

The study does not explicitly state that OSA causes depression. However, there is enough overlap between the two conditions to be cause for concern. Researchers at Augusta University, however, did explicitly identify OSA as a potential cause of depression.

Other Mental Health Conditions

It is important to reiterate that correlation does not imply causation. However, correlation does warrant concern and attention, especially given what we know about sleep and brain chemistry.

With that in mind, a study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found some startling links between sleep apnea and various mental conditions. People with OSA are:

  • 75x more likely to have suicidal ideation
  • 68x more likely to suffer from anxiety
  • 88x more likely to suffer severe psychological distress

There is even some research that suggests sleep apnea is linked to schizophrenia.

Do you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea? Klooster Family Dentistry can fit you with an oral sleep appliance! These custom-fit devices physically adjust your airway while you sleep, preventing many of the issues of OSA. Contact us today to learn more!