How Does Sleep Apnea Affect the Brain?

It’s no secret that sleep apnea is dangerous. Sufferers stop breathing sporadically throughout the night while they’re asleep. This sporadic pause in oxygen intake and dispelling of carbon dioxide can have many detrimental effects on the body, all while a sleep apnea sufferer is fast asleep. The psychological side effects of sleep apnea can significantly impair sufferers. So, how does sleep apnea affect the brain?

Signs of Sleep Apnea Upon Waking

When someone suffering from sleep apnea wakes up, they may not be aware that their breathing stopped in the middle of the night unless their partner comments on it or they were wearing a sleep device used in diagnosis. If our sleep apnea patient did not have the advantage of one of these situations, their only cues might be how they feel when they wake up. Sleep apnea’s most well-known side effects include:

  • Decreased ability to concentrate on tasks
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor judgment
  • Drowsiness and fatigue

Consequences for Mental Health

The psychological effects of sleep apnea are seemingly endless due to the ensuing oxygen deprivation. Not breathing while asleep is obviously dangerous, especially if breathing doesn’t begin again, but its dangers continue once that person wakes up. Some of the consequences for mental health as a result of sleep apnea include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Serious psychological distress

One study from Kauffman, Ph.D., MHS, Susukida, Ph.D., and Depp, Ph.D., published in the National Institutes of Health, found that “compared to those without sleep apnea, those reporting past year sleep apnea had 3.11 times increased odds of having depression.”

Effects on Motor Skills and Learning

Sleep apnea can also affect one’s ability to learn new information and repeat motor skill tasks. One study asked participants to complete a sequential finger-tapping task (SFTT), a motor skill learning task, both before and after polysomnographic recorded sleep.

Unsurprisingly, sleep apnea sufferers performed categorically worse than people without sleep apnea.

Contact Dr. Wallace About Sleep Apnea Today

Sleep apnea is dangerous for many reasons, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. It can also contribute to psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress, among others. For more information and treatment options for sleep apnea, contact Dr. Wallace’s office at (843) 410-0345 or visit our contact form here.

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