Sleep Apnea: Links to Depression, Smoking and Sedatives


There is a link between sleep apnea and depression, smoking and sedatives and alcohol. In this blog we will take a look at the reason for these links.

There are different severities of sleep apnea…mild, moderate and severe. As the severity of the apnea increases, the greater is the likelihood that the individual may suffer from depression.

Sleep apnea is the cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or longer and occurring at least five times per hour. This means that during these apneic events, the cells in our organs are not getting enough oxygen. This often results in one feeling physically and mentally exhausted. The effect of repeated oxygen deprivation to the brain can leave one feeling not only exhausted, but also depressed and anxious. This may also affect our concentration and performance during the day. In addition, there may be a loss of sexual interest and impotence too. Overall, one may feel LOUSY.

Smokers are at a higher risk for developing sleep apnea than non-smokers, in fact three times greater.

Smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway. To better understand this you have to imagine your airway as a flexible breathing tube that goes from your mouth down your throat until it reaches your lungs. Smoking acts as an irritant which results in inflammation on the inner lining of this tube…the increased inflammation in turn results in an accumulation of fluid in the tube. This ‘obstruction’ will cause a narrowing of the lumen of the tube. The increased risk and severity of sleep apnea with smoking will decrease if you quit smoking.

Sedatives and Alcohol
Sedatives and alcohol tend to relax the muscles in your tongue and throat. While asleep (most often on your back), the tongue and soft tissues at the back of the throat will tend to relax and fall further back. This will act as an obstruction which will contribute to the sleep apnea.

However in individuals who take sedatives or alcohol, there is a greater risk of collapse occurring as the muscles of the throat and tongue become even more relaxed: If you want to get technical, the result in a decrease in pharyngeal tone.

An obstructed airway usually increases your risk of hypoventilation (rapid and shallow breathing), hypoxemia (reduced blood oxygen levels) and hypercapnia (increased carbon dioxide levels in the blood).

It is always best to avoid drinking alcohol and taking sedatives (if possible) within 3-5 hours of going to sleep.

In this blog and some previous ones on this topic, we are able to see that there is a certain degree of control that one has which would enable us to lessen the severity of our sleep apnea: that may be quitting smoking and drinking and losing weight…whatever the case, if you try to take back the control in your life, you can undoubtedly become a healthier individual 🙂

Yours in good health,

Dr. F. Keshavarz Dentistry

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