Are you feeling grumpy and irritable? Has your spouse mentioned you seem a little on edge? Your poor mood might be caused by sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops or slows down during sleep, causing loud snoring and frequent waking. If you’ve noticed mild symptoms associated with sleep apnea, like irritability or other behavior changes, talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.
How does sleep apnea cause irritability?
Patients with sleep apnea often feel fatigued from a lack of quality sleep, which leads to irritability. However, other aspects of sleep apnea also contribute to feeling irritable.
Research shows that patients with sleep apnea have decreased levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and increased levels of glutamate, two chemicals naturally found in the brain. These chemicals contribute to mood, cognition and specific physical functions, like blood pressure. When the levels of these chemicals change, the brain cannot regulate mood, resulting in higher stress levels. Patients with sleep apnea cannot simply choose to act less irritable. Their bodies are not producing the optimal chemical levels for proper brain function.
How can untreated sleep apnea impact relationships?
Unfortunately, the symptoms of sleep apnea not only hurt your health and performance, they can also damage your relationships. Even with the best of intentions, family and friends may become frustrated or hurt by your changes in behavior. It’s essential to seek medical attention when you notice changes in your mood or mental health.
What are the most effective sleep apnea solutions?
Often, obese patients find a reduction in sleep apnea symptoms when they lose weight. Excess weight contributes to obstructive sleep apnea, as excess tissue blocks the airway during sleep.
A CPAP machine can also help manage sleep apnea symptoms by forcing the airway open with continuous airflow. Another effective treatment is wearing a custom oral appliance during sleep to help keep the airway clear. The device works by shifting the jaw forward to open the airway and relieve symptoms. Some patients prefer the oral appliance because it is less intrusive than the CPAP.
With the right treatment or combination of treatments, patients can reduce their irritability and stabilize their moods. Find the support you need to get a good night’s sleep.
Marianna Kovitch, D.M.D., is a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (DABDSM). Dr. Kovitch received her Doctor of Dental Medicine from the Medical College of Georgia after earning her Bachelor of Science with honors in chemistry as well as recognition in research publications for her work in biochemistry from Georgia State University. Dr. Kovitch has been an active board member of the Academy of General Dentistry since 2013 and has been a contributor to the development of dentistry excellence in Georgia.