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Feeling Fatigued, Inert, and Moody? You May Have Sleep Apnea

Research confirms this common sleep disorder profoundly affects quality of life.

Key points

  • Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects approximately 1 billion people worldwide, although many people don’t even know they have it.
  • Loud and routine snoring can be one of the first signs of sleep apnea. Others include mood swings, fatigue, and cognitive problems.
  • When you have sleep apnea, you may stop and start breathing again anywhere from 8 to 80 times every hour of the night, or more.
Kampus Productions/Pexels
Kampus Productions/Pexels

A German study published in the February 2023 issue of the Journal of Sleep Research confirmed for the first time what many medical experts and people living with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) already know: Left untreated, this debilitating sleep disorder takes a heavy toll on the physical and mental quality of life of those who live with it. And multiple studies have also shown that untreated OSA and low quality of life increase the risk of early death.

If you snore loudly most nights and often find yourself struggling to stay awake during the day, suffer inexplicable mood disturbances, or have otherwise unexplained cognitive issues, such as trouble concentrating, memory lapses, or difficulty processing and relaying information, the underlying cause could be OSA. OSA is one of the most common sleep disorders, affecting one billion people worldwide. And that number is growing. The risk of developing OSA is higher for men, severely overweight or obese individuals, and older people, but women, younger people, and those in a healthy weight range can also be affected.

OSA is marked by multiple episodes of partial or complete airway obstruction during sleep, literally cutting off your breathing. If you suffer from severe, untreated OSA, you may stop and start breathing as many as 30, 50, 80, or more times every hour throughout the night. The result is more than poor sleep quality, which in and of itself causes both physical and mental health issues. It’s a sizable shortage of oxygen in your body.

In addition to increased odds of developing or worsening chronic medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obesity, other studies have found that people with OSA are more than three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and more than two and a half times as likely to report thoughts of suicide than those who do not have OSA. The odds of severe overall psychological distress are even higher. Diagnosing OSA in people with mental health disorders can be difficult because the symptoms often overlap. At the same time, undiagnosed or untreated OSA can affect the severity of mental health issues and interfere with their treatment.

OSA occurs when the roof of your mouth, tongue, and throat muscles relax during sleep, causing the surrounding soft tissue to block your airway and interfere with normal breathing. Snoring is the sound of that soft tissue vibrating as you start to breathe again. Just because you snore, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have OSA. But if you snore loudly and often, and snoring is accompanied by other symptoms, such as daytime sleepiness and fatigue, headaches or sore throat upon wakening, gasping or chest pain at night, or waking yourself up from sleep with a loud snort, it’s a sign that you should contact a doctor for an evaluation.

If you generally sleep alone in your home, you may not realize how much or how loudly you snore. In that case, you may have to rely on the symptoms you experience while awake, like unusual or extreme tiredness and mood swings, to alert you to a potential medical problem.

Day-to-day, untreated OSA causes fatigue, negatively impacts your ability to think and reason, and can greatly diminish your overall quality of life. Ultimately, the symptoms and the risk factors associated with OSA can take a huge toll on your physical and mental health. Left untreated, sleep apnea can also lead to conditions that shorten your life.

It’s really up to you to report symptoms to your doctor because testing for OSA is not a routine part of most medical exams. Otherwise, your condition and any necessary treatment could be long delayed. As the researchers point out, several treatment options for OSA can reduce or eliminate symptoms and greatly improve quality of life.

For moderate, severe, and possibly even mild cases, the best treatment is the use of continuous positive airway pressure, better known as CPAP. There are also other treatments, including dental appliances, weight loss if necessary, and surgical intervention. If you recognize symptoms of OSA in yourself or someone else, a trip to a doctor will likely result in a referral to a sleep center that offers in-house or take-home tests. If the test shows that you suffer from OSA, your doctor will discuss your best treatment plan.


Vogler K, Daboul A, Obst A, et al. Quality of life in patients with obstructive sleep apnea: Results from the study of health in Pomerania. Journal of Sleep Research. February 2023; 32(1).

Phyo AZZ, Freak-Poli R, Craig H, et al. Quality of life and mortality in the the general population: A systemic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. Nov 6, 2020; 20 (1596).

Gupta MA, Simpson FC. Obstructive sleep apnea and psychiatric disorders. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. First published online February 2015.

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