The Mental & Physical Impact of Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The Mental & Physical Impact of Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea

All sleep apnea patients understand that dealing with a sleep disorder is not for the faint-hearted. Long nights are followed by even longer days leaving you feeling drained and absolutely miserable. Hence, many who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea invest in apnea machines and get serious about their lifestyle choices to prevent the condition from worsening. Devices like the LOOKEE® Ring-Pro Sleep Oxygen Monitor also help with managing apnea events and ensuring a more peaceful night's sleep.

However, a problem commonly faced by older adults is underestimating the impact that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can have on their lives. What starts as the odd restless night can lead not only to more frequent apnea events but severe physical and mental fatigue. In this article, we'll explore the long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea.

The Impact of Sleep Apnea on REM Sleep

REM sleep is a form of deep sleep that people enter during their sleep cycle. It is a stage within the cycle characterized by dreaming and, more so, allowing the brain to rest and regenerate after a busy day. Thus, ensuring that it performs at its best for the day ahead. People enter REM sleep between three to five times during their sleep cycle. OSA interrupts breathing as a result of an airway blockage and, therefore, will prevent proper REM sleep from taking place. 

It can take a patient a while to go back into a deep sleep as they first have to enter the NREM stages that lead up to it. It is easy to see how repeated occurrences of apnea events ultimately lead to sleep deprivation. Even when a person manages to fall back asleep, they do not receive an adequate amount of REM sleep to help the brain recover from the day. Hence, they wake up feeling extremely fatigued and in a bad mood.

Living with sleep apnea is not easy. That's why the LOOKEE® Sleep Oxygen Monitors allow you to track the effectiveness of your CPAP treatment and ensure that it is doing what it needs to! When your blood oxygen levels drop below acceptable levels, our devices will send a gentle vibration to wake you up. Say goodbye to those nighttime choking fits and get the rest you deserve. 

How Sleep Apnea Leads to Poor Mental Health

Since the disorder leads to sleep deprivation, it can have negative impacts on mood and cause serious psychological distress. Studies have shown that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can almost triple the odds of having anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. This is mainly due to a decreased quality of life. Following restless nights are early mornings and unproductive workdays, which can place a huge amount of stress on a person. This would also negatively impact their relationships with family, friends, and work colleagues as well. 

Untreated sleep apnea has also been known to cause a decline in cognitive functioning. It is common for patients to experience poor concentration skills and face difficulties when it comes to making logical decisions. Since sleep plays an important role in the formation of long-term memory, patients have trouble remembering things as well. Researchers have begun to explore the correlation between sleep apnea and the early onset of Alzheimer's disease. Airway obstructions are also known to cause hypoxia or, for better words, a lack of oxygen to the brain. Studies are also being done to understand whether untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to dementia. 

How Sleep Apnea Causes Weight Gain

The link between excessive weight gain and sleep apnea results in an unfortunate cycle that can be very difficult to overcome. Those who are already overweight are at a higher risk of developing the condition. This is because there is more tissue and fat surrounding the upper airway, increasing the odds that it will be blocked off during sleep. 

Of course, one of the main symptoms brought about by the disorder is a drastic decrease in an individual's energy levels. The more sleep disruptions they experience, the less motivation they have to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This leads to a pattern of eating unhealthy foods, causing further weight gain and thus worsening any sleep apnea symptoms.

Fatigue may not be the only reason behind weight gain. Studies have shown that OSA may cause a fluctuation in the stomach's ghrelin and leptin hormones. These hormones are responsible for hunger sensations, and when they are at abnormal levels, it can cause a person to feel hungrier more often and lead to weight gain.

Health Conditions Linked to Sleep Apnea

Breathing difficulties associated with sleep apnea are due to the impact it has on the respiratory system. Since the lungs are being deprived of oxygen on a regular basis, it can lead to shortness of breath and even worsen the symptoms of those who have asthma. Sleep apnea patients are at a higher risk of developing higher insulin resistance. When this happens, the body does not process insulin to lower blood sugar as it should. This leads to increased sugar levels and an increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Multiple episodes of low blood oxygen induced by apnea events can result in various cardiovascular diseases, including strokes, abnormal heartbeat, recurring heart attacks, and even congestive heart failure. These random drops in blood oxygen levels place more strain on the cardiovascular system and indirectly lead to high blood pressure (hypertension).

When it comes to the liver, sleep apnea patients face a higher risk of experiencing an abnormal amount of liver enzymes and an increased likelihood of fatty liver disease and scarring. Researchers have found a link between intermittent hypoxia caused by apnea events and damage to liver tissue.

It is not uncommon for patients to experience heightened symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux, such as heartburn. This can become another factor that prevents them from having a good night's rest as it causes major discomfort during the night.

Decreased energy levels, symptoms of stress, and depression all have a negative toll on the reproductive system. Many patients experience a weak libido, and men, in particular, may display signs of erectile dysfunction.

If you fear that you might be suffering from sleep apnea, our LOOKEE® Sleep Monitors will allow you to consistently record vitals such as Sp02 levels, heart rate and motion patterns throughout the night. These readings can be taken to a sleep specialist to support the findings that come from your sleep study. If you are diagnosed with the disorder, it is essential you seek the appropriate medical treatment and also make healthier lifestyle changes to ensure that you do not worsen your condition.

Reference List:

The Effects of Sleep Apnea on the Body:

Does Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

Scientists Discover Link Between Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s:

Depression, Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Psychosocial Health:

Why Your Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is Messing with Your Mental Health:

Dare to Dream: How Sleep Apnea Can Affect REM Sleep

The Dangers of Uncontrolled Sleep Apnea:

Sleep apnea, psychopathology, and mental health care: