Untreated sleep apnea can wreak havoc on health and wellness–from increased risk of stroke and heart disease to obesity and diabetes, every system in the body can be negatively impacted. What many people do not realize is that the toll on mental health can be equally dire.

Mental health, just like our physical health, is heavily dependent on receiving consistent, adequate, quality sleep. Getting less, or lesser quality sleep than our needs require is associated with a multitude of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Read the article from Harvard Health here.) For those who may already struggle with mental health issues, a lack of sleep can have a negative, cyclical effect. Lack of sleep exacerbates the mental health problem, which makes sleep even harder to come by, which amplifies the problem even more, and on and on the vicious cycle goes.

Those who do not already struggle with mental health issues can still be negatively impacted by lack of quality sleep. Our brains require sleep to function properly, and when we don’t get enough of it, it shows. Concentration and alertness are quickly dampened by a tired mind. “Sleepiness also impairs judgment. Making decisions is more difficult because you can’t assess situations as well and pick the right behavior.” (webmd.com) This can make it difficult to perform well at work, and it definitely hinders our ability to stay alert behind the wheel. “Sleep apnea more than doubles the risk for car accidents.” (Read the article here.) Reaction time is slowed significantly when we are sleep deprived. “Driving while sleepy is like driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% — over the legal limit in many states. ” (Read the article here.)

Poor sleep also makes learning more difficult, and hinders our ability to remember or recall information. For this reason, many children with untreated sleep apnea struggle in school. Their symptoms are often confused for ADHD, and many children are misdiagnosed and given treatment for ADHD instead of sleep apnea. In other words, the problem doesn’t improve because the real issue is not being addressed. “In children particularly, sleep apnea can lead to irritability, exhaustion, mood swings, and other problems that may not be immediately associated with a sleep disorder.” (Read the article here.)

Our moods are heavily dependent on our sleep habits. Being sleep deprived equates a much higher risk for depression and other mental disorders. Once again, the effects are cyclical–lack of sleep exacerbates depression and irritability, which makes sleep even worse, and so on. The desire to exercise, eat healthy foods, and engage in positive relationships with friends and loved ones decreases as depression worsens. Resulting weight gain and lack of proper nutrition, as well as a feeling of isolation from lack of quality relationships, makes the depression even worse and can cause sleep apnea to become even more severe. It’s a brutal spiral and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to escape it.

The impact of quality sleep on our mental wellness can’t be overstressed. If you, or a loved one, is showing any of the symptoms of sleep apnea, you need to reach out to a health care professional right away. Don’t wait–it’s not worth it! Click here to find a provider near you. Don’t wait for things to get worse–call today!