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Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety?

By Kyle Kirkland
A lack of sleep can affect many aspects of your health, from your body to your mind. Here’s what experts have to say about the relationship between sleep apnea and anxiety.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which your sleep is interrupted and you do not get the rest you should. In general, a lack of sleep can lead to decreased alertness and increased drowsiness, according to Cleveland Clinic. In addition to physical symptoms, sleep apnea can lead to psychological problems as well. Here’s what you need to know about sleep apnea and anxiety. 

Sleep Apnea and Anxiety: What’s the Link?

Anxiety by itself is a natural way your body deals with stress and alerts you of potential danger. However, problems arise when anxiety becomes overwhelming and prevents you from living a normal life. Uncontrolled feelings of stress and worry can sometimes result from an inadequate amount of sleep

“Sleep apnea can cause anxiety and make it worse,” Aniko Dunn, Psy.D and psychologist at EZ Care Clinic, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

One reason for this is that “the chemical reactions that come with a lack of sleep can make you feel depressed and nervous,” Dunn explains. 

Another reason is tied to sleep stages. An important stage of sleep is the “deep sleep” stage, where your brain waves slow down. This stage is also when your body starts repairing tissues, boosting your immune system, and storing up energy for the next day. Not reaching this “deep sleep” stage, or being interrupted during it, as occurs with sleep apnea, prevents your body and mind from operating normally.

A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis published by Sleep Medicine found that sleep deprivation can create significant spikes in state anxiety levels. The American Psychological Association defines state anxiety as anxiety that arises in response to a specific threat or danger. And the research shows that these spikes occur in response to both total and partial loss of sleep

“Many studies show that lack of sleep or a poor night's sleep can aggravate anxiety, as well as the reverse—showing that anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep and have a restful night's sleep,” Jaclyn Bauer, Ph.D. and psychologist, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Whether your anxiety was caused or made worse by sleep apnea, the two can be dangerous if not treated.

“There is a relationship between the two and when one is struggling, the other tends to follow suit, and it can be a downward spiral,” Bauer says. 

Think you may have sleep apnea? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.