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Sleep Apnea May be Tied to a Higher Risk of Suicide & Self-Harm

March 17, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — sleepdunwoodyteam @ 11:26 am
depressed man with sleep apnea looking out window

Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, mental health issues

Everyone has an off day from time to time, but feelings of depression can often become amplified when you’re sleep deprived, leading to imbalances in your personal life, professional life, and health that can quickly become overwhelming.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder that causes breathing to be disrupted during sleep. We often associate OSA with poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, snoring, and accelerated weight gain. But what many may not realize is how OSA can impact mental health, with the disorder being tied to depression, thoughts of suicide, and self-harm.

The Research

In a recent Oxford University Press study on 48,000 Danish adults with OSA, the results suggested that sleep apnea is linked to mental health issues, including a higher risk of depression. Findings showed that self-harm and suicide may be more common in people who experience sleep apnea symptoms.

Tragically, this study found that 1.9% of people with OSA died by suicide, compared to 1.5% of people in the study without OSA. Additionally, those with OSA were more likely to engage in acts of self-harm.

There is also a chance that sleep apnea treatment plays a role in suicide and self-harm rates among those with OSA. People being treated for OSA had lower rates (1.2%) of suicide and self-harm than those not being treated (2.4%). The working theory is that people who have received treatment and are well-rested are less impulsive and therefore less likely to hurt themselves. We often see impulsiveness in sleep apnea manifest in other ways, namely in people’s diet choices (which tend to be less healthy the more they are sleep deprived).

The Relationship Between Mental Health & Sleep

Scientific research suggests that sleep quality is one of the most important predictors of mental health and wellbeing. Sleep quality is measured by whether or not someone’s sleep is restful and restorative. Meaning, when those with OSA are impacted by symptoms that interrupt their sleep patterns, their mental health can also take a hit. Their minds are unable to recover and recharge fully from the day before, and this can lead to extreme exhaustion that contributes to depression.

Other findings suggest that up to 46% of sleep apnea sufferers also experience depression, and around 54% experience some form of anxiety.

Contributing Factors

Using screens before bed can drastically contribute to a decline in sleep quality and is also tied to mental health issues. In combination with causing fatigue from not being well-rested, too much screen time can also impact self-esteem. Experiencing fatigue and low self-esteem can possibly exacerbate depressive symptoms.

Many people find themselves “doom scrolling” as well, which is perpetually looking up information about upsetting modern events. It’s easy for many to spend hours immersing themselves in bad news. Then, when it’s time to sleep, that upsetting content is still swirling in the mind, causing poor sleep quality and an increase in depressive thoughts.

Some tips for reducing screen time and preparing for a good night’s sleep include:

  • Avoid using screens an hour before bedtime
  • Monitor use of screens throughout the day, and set limits for consumption
  • Leave screens outside the bedroom to charge at night

Get Help Today

Untreated OSA can become life-threatening both from a physical and a psychological perspective. The effects go well beyond simply feeling tired all the time. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, there are resources available to help. For those in immediate crisis, there is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Treating OSA can drastically improve not only sleep quality, but also quality of life. Dental sleep medicine practitioners, like Dr. Jeff Rodgers, are here to help you combat your sleep apnea symptoms in a straightforward and proven way using oral appliance therapy. This involves a patient wearing a custom mouthguard to bed that enables them to breathe normally throughout the night, allowing them to achieve deep, uninterrupted sleep. If you’re looking for treatment, schedule your appointment today.

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