Researchers have already established that the estimated 18 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea are four times more likely to have a stroke and three times more likely to experience heart disease if gone untreated.
Treatments like CPAP machines can reduce these risks, and according to new research, treating sleep apnea may actually reduce the risk of depression as well.
According to Marcus Povitz of Western University in London, Ontario, the lead author of the study, sleep apnea is believed to contribute to depression because sleep apnea causes low quality sleep and sleep fragmentation. Dips in oxygen from apnea events may also cause injury to the brain, leading to symptoms of depression.
Obstructive sleep apnea, for instance, causes a repeated obstruction of the upper airway during sleep, causing sufferers to wake frequently, deprived of oxygen. Because of this, sleep apnea has been linked to memory issues, irritability, insomnia and decreased quality of life.
Fortunately, sleep apnea can be successfully treated with a CPAP machine, which delivers a continuous stream of gentle air pressure during sleep to keep sleepers breathing regularly. Patients can also use mandibular advancement devices, which hold the lower jaw and tongue forward to keep them from restricting breathing.
Patients in the recent study who used CPAP machines showed fewer depression symptoms than untreated patients, and patients who were treated with MADs also improved.
Many sleep physicians also reported elevated moods in patients who were receiving sleep apnea treatment.
The study couldn’t definitively determine if sleep problems caused depression or if it was the other way around. However, it is possible for symptoms of sleep apnea to be mistaken for symptoms of depression. The study also raised the possibility that untreated sleep apnea can worsen existing symptoms of depression.
If you feel like your sleep problems may be contributing to your depression, contact a doctor and ask if sleep apnea could have anything to do with it.