Today, the pandemic has exponentially increased the need to raise awareness of how lack of sleep can affect your mental and physical well-being. Sleep plays an active role when it comes to recovering from an illness, thereby making you feel more energetic, productive, and confident. On the other hand, lack of sleep caused by various sleeping disorders can be one of the underlying causes of several health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure issues, and of course, mental health issues.
While sleeping disorders such as insomnia and narcolepsy are recognised, there are some lesser-known disorders like sleep apnea.
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What is sleep apnea?
Dr Sibasish Dey, head, medical affairs of ResMed tells indianexpress.com that “sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder characterised by repeated upper airway disturbances during sleep, which causes breathing to stop for some seconds, throughout the night”.
He explains that this is caused because of over-relaxation of muscles in the throat, which obstructs the airflow through the upper airway. In fact, sleep apnea may occur multiple times at night, resulting in lack of adequate oxygen supply to the tissues. It can make you suddenly wake up because of blockage in breathing, thereby disrupting your sleep.
Symptoms range from morning headaches to fatigues, mood swings, and even depression.
How is your sleep apnea affecting mental health?
“The direct consequence of sleep apnea is disturbed sleep. Over time, successive nights of disrupted sleep cause you to wake up tired and sleepy even after enjoying excellent eight-hour sleep,” the doctor explains.
This results in chronic inflammations in the body that cause oxidative stress thus resulting in an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. “According to a recent study conducted at the Medical College Georgia at Augusta University, obstructive sleep apnea can be a potential cause of depression,” says Dr Dey. He also points out that the study showed that OSA was more common in patients with low-income family support, who lived alone and had a lack of social support.
To this, he adds: “There have been several other studies conducted across the world that have demonstrated a link between sleep apnea and depression.” Like one done by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which found that productivity on highly-cognitive tasks deteriorates with increasing lack of sleep, with the effects progressively worsening with time.
“Sleep deprivation caused by OSA can lead to mood swings, irritable behaviour with colleagues at workplaces and a decrease in innovative thinking and performance, leading to loss of productivity,” warns the doctor.
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How can one treat sleep apnea?
The first thing is to reach out to your family physician or a sleep doctor. “Post your physical examination, your doctor may put you through a sleep test. Now, a sleep test might sound complicated and cumbersome, but it is easy and can be done over one night,” says Dr Dey. In a home sleep test, a simple device is attached to you before sleeping, which monitors your oxygen level, records snoring and monitors pauses in breathing. In severe cases, however, Dr Dey suggests one to opt for CPAP Therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).
“It is a standard therapy for managing sleep apnea. A CPAP machine helps you inhale just the right amount of air to keep your lungs and upper airway passages open, preventing breathing pauses, resulting in healthy sleep,” he says.
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