It’s fairly common knowledge that sleep apnea leads to snoring and can cause its victims to be extremely tired. However, many individuals do not realize that the consequences of sleep apnea can go much further than that. Numerous studies have found that this condition is linked to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. It is also strongly correlated with thinking and memory problems. What is the reason behind the connection? It may have to do with how sleep apnea influences chemicals in the brain.
Chemicals that Influence Mood
The human brain is one of the most complex objects in the universe, and scientists still have much to learn about it. However, research has revealed that a part of the brain called the insula is key in regulating emotions and thinking ability, as well as certain physical functions (like perspiration and blood pressure).
Glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are two chemicals that work within the insula. GABA is a mood inhibitor, which helps people to control their emotions and remain calm. Glutamate has the opposite effect. Ideally, the two chemicals should balance one another and allow people to enjoy emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.
Sleep Apnea May Affect Glutamate and GABA Levels
A 2016 study found that people with sleep apnea have lower levels of GABA and higher levels of glutamate than the general population. The researchers noted that these changes may actually amount to a reorganization of how the brain is working when it is coping with sleep apnea. It comes as no surprise, then, that people with sleep apnea often suffer emotional difficulties.
Can Sleep Apnea Treatment Help?
It is possible that sleep apnea treatment could help brain chemical levels return to normal. In fact, several studies suggest that treating sleep apnea can have a large, positive affect on patients’ emotional health. One such study found that out of nearly 300 people with sleep apnea, 73 percent had clinically significant depressive symptoms. However, among patients who adhered to sleep apnea treatment for 3 months, only 4 percent still suffered from signs of depression.
Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that can alter your brain chemistry and thereby affect your everyday quality of life. Seeking treatment could be the key to helping you feel and function your best.
Dr. Keith Hollinger is a dentist whose practice places a strong emphasis on helping patients find relief from sleep apnea through oral appliance therapy. He is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Academy of Orofacial Pain, and other prestigious organizations. If you would like to learn more about sleep apnea and its available treatments, or you are ready to schedule a consultation with Dr. Hollinger, contact Central Connecticut Orofacial Pain & Sleep Medicine at 860-430-5687.