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Do you frequently have days where every single tiny thing threatens to push you over the edge? One of the most effective ways to wake up in an irritable mood is to not get enough sleep. People with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are less likely to get enough sleep and more likely to experience frequent irritability, as well as other mood fluctuations, and mood disorders like anxiety or depression.

Researchers believe that the reason for this is because people’s OSA can cause a change in brain chemicals. During a sleep apnea episode, the body receives less oxygen. This causes carbon dioxide to build up in the blood, making it acidic and signaling the body to respond. The body responds by releasing certain neurotransmitters to decrease the level of sleep so that breathing can continue. The theory is that the frequent release of neurotransmitters during nighttime apnea episodes causes a depletion of these neurotransmitters during the day, which can lead to multiple mental health disruptions with irritability being one of them.

Here is what some research says about the relationship between irritability and OSA:

  • Research by Paul Macey, professor at the UCLA School of Nursing, found that people with OSA have lower levels of a brain chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and higher levels of a chemical known as glutamate. While GABA is a mood inhibitor that calms people, glutamate is associated with brain stress. High levels of glutamate have been known to cause anxiety, restlessness, and a lack of concentration.
  • An article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry noted that people with OSA experience symptoms, like irritability, that can lead to psychological disturbances and social adjustment difficulties.
  • A study published in Sleep found that patients with severe OSA actually had a reduction in the amount of gray matter within certain areas of the brain that could lead to problems with memory, emotion, and cognitive functioning.
  • A study published in 2008 by UCLA noted that there was a significant amount of damage in the fiber pathways found within white matter areas that are responsible for regulating mood, memory, and blood pressure.

Because of the close relationship between mood regulation and OSA, many psychiatrists are now starting to screen for OSA when diagnosing patients who come in with symptoms of a mood disorder. In some cases, treating OSA with CPAP or other therapies has proven effective in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as the irritability that comes with these common mood disorders.

If you’re experiencing irritability, it may be due to sleep apnea. This condition can cause changes in the brain chemistry that leads to mood disorders like anxiety and depression. If you think you have undiagnosed sleep apnea, contact Doctor Dreamweaver today for your home sleep apnea test so you can sleep well and be well.

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