Why Psychologists Are Starting To Care About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder affecting approximately 22 million Americans, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. This disorder causes people to stop breathing multiple times throughout the night, which can lead to a wide range of health problems over time.

It’s no surprise that sleep apnea can cause physical health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. However, recent research has pointed to the connection between sleep apnea and mental health problems, which is why psychologists are starting to care about this disorder.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. This interruption is caused by a blockage in the airway, often as a result of the muscles in the back of the throat relaxing and obstructing the flow of air.

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which the airway is blocked by the tongue, soft palate, or other tissue in the throat. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is another type of sleep apnea that occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.

The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Mental Health

While it’s widely known that sleep apnea can affect physical health, the connection between this disorder and mental health has only recently been explored.

Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea are at a higher risk of developing mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. This may be caused by the disruption to the sleep cycle that occurs when someone with sleep apnea is constantly waking up to resume breathing.

Sleep apnea has also been linked to cognitive impairment, including difficulties with attention and memory. According to a study published in the journal Sleep, people with untreated sleep apnea perform worse on cognitive tests than those without the disorder.

Another study found that people with sleep apnea had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, potentially due to the damage that occurs to the brain from repeated episodes of low oxygen levels.

The Role of Psychologists

Given the connection between sleep apnea and mental health, it’s clear that psychologists can play an important role in the treatment of this disorder. Psychologists can work with patients to identify and address any underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to their sleep apnea symptoms.

For example, a patient with depression may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help them to address negative thoughts and behaviors that may be interfering with their ability to sleep. CBT has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression, which are common comorbidities of sleep apnea.

Psychologists can also work with patients to develop healthy sleep habits and routines, such as establishing a regular sleep schedule and avoiding screens before bedtime. These habits can be particularly effective in treating mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves wearing a mask over the nose and/or mouth during sleep that delivers a continuous flow of air to keep the airway open.

Other treatment options for sleep apnea include oral appliances, which can help to keep the airway open by shifting the position of the tongue and lower jaw, and surgery to remove excess tissue from the throat.

Psychologists may also work with patients to explore alternative therapies for sleep apnea, such as meditation and relaxation techniques. While these therapies are not a substitute for medical treatment, they can help to reduce stress and promote better sleep hygiene.

The Importance of Treating Sleep Apnea

Given the range of health problems associated with sleep apnea, it’s clear that this disorder should be taken seriously. However, the connection between sleep apnea and mental health has highlighted the importance of treating this disorder from a holistic perspective.

By working with psychologists to address any underlying mental health issues and develop healthy sleep habits, patients with sleep apnea can not only improve their physical health but also their overall quality of life.


FAQ 1: What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a sleeping disorder that affects millions of people around the world. It is a condition where the airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, causing the person to stop breathing for a few seconds, and waking up gasping for air. Sleep Apnea can have serious consequences on one’s physical and mental health if left untreated.

FAQ 2: What is the Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Mental Health?

Studies have shown a strong link between sleep apnea and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even ADHD. Sleep apnea can cause poor sleep quality, resulting in daytime sleepiness and fatigue, which can lead to poor concentration, irritability, and mood swings. Treating sleep apnea can improve overall mental health and wellbeing.

FAQ 3: Why are Psychologists Starting to Care About Sleep Apnea?

Psychologists are starting to care about sleep apnea because of the impact it has on mental health. Many psychologists are incorporating sleep assessments into their treatment plans for patients who present with mental health issues. Addressing sleep apnea can also improve treatment outcomes for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Collaboration between psychologists and sleep specialists can lead to better overall health outcomes for individuals with sleep apnea.


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2. Van den Berg, J. F., Tulen, J. H., Hofman, A., Mook-Kanamori, D. O., Witteman, J. C., & Tiemeier, H. (2008). Sleep duration and hypertension are not associated in the elderly. Hypertension, 51(2), 559-564. Retrieved from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.107.102931

3. Peppard, P. E., Young, T., Palta, M., Dempsey, J., & Skatrud, J. (2013). Longitudinal study of moderate weight change and sleep-disordered breathing. Jama, 309(22), 2465-2473. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1697944