A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examines the prevalence of depressive symptoms in sleep apnea patients and suggests that individuals who have been diagnosed with depression may be suffering from untreated sleep apnea.
Led by Dr. David Hillman, clinical professor at the University of Western Australia, the study focused on 293 men and women who had recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea. At the beginning of the study, Dr. Hillman and his team evaluated the patients for symptoms of depression and found that 73% of them had clinically significant depressive symptoms. Furthermore, the team learned that the likelihood of depressive symptoms increased with sleep apnea severity.
Next, the researchers set out to determine whether continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, the gold-standard treatment for sleep apnea, would have any effect on symptoms of depression.
Participants were instructed to use CPAP machines five hours a night for three months, and then re-evaluated for depressive symptoms. At the end of the three months, researchers found that of the 228 participants who had strictly adhered to CPAP therapy, only 4% still had symptoms of depression.
In the beginning of the study, 41 participants had reported suicidal thoughts or the desire to self-harm, but at their three-month follow-up, this number was reduced to 0.
“Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation,” said Dr. Hillman, as reported by Business Standard. “The findings highlight the potential for sleep apnea, a notoriously underdiagnosed condition, to be misdiagnosed as depression.”
If you’re one of the 18 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea, we can’t overstress the importance of adhering to CPAP therapy or whichever treatment method your doctor recommends. With proper sleep apnea treatment, you can alleviate the most obvious symptoms of sleep apnea and lower your risk of developing a health condition related to sleep apnea.