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What’s the Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Depression?

Let’s start this off with a quick activity. Take a look at the following list of symptoms and make a mental note of any that you frequently experience:

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  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Attention problems  
  • Headaches
You may be thinking that these sound a lot like symptoms of depression—and they are—but the interesting thing is, they’re also symptoms of sleep apnea. As you can imagine, this presents a unique challenge when trying to differentiate between sleep apnea and depression.

Sleep Apnea Misdiagnosed as Depression

An estimated 22 million adults in the United States suffer from sleep apnea, and yet it remains a “notoriously undiagnosed” condition. It turns out overlapping signs and symptoms of sleep apnea may be one of the reasons why.In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found that a staggering 73% of sleep apnea patients had symptoms of depression. According to Medical News Today, the researchers said that “their findings highlight the importance of screening individuals with depression for signs of sleep apnea”, such as snoring and pauses in breathing during sleep.Since sleep apnea is known to cause or contribute to depression, the good news is that receiving a proper diagnosis and beginning treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea and depression.  

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Treating Sleep Apnea and Depression

We spend a lot of time here on the Sleep Talk blog extolling the many virtues of CPAP therapy. And we’re certainly not going to stop now!If the depression symptoms you experience are indeed linked to sleep apnea, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy can improve both sleep apnea and depression at the same time. CPAP therapy is widely known for its effectiveness in treating sleep apnea, and research shows that it is effective in treating the depression associated with sleep apnea as well. In the same study mentioned above, researchers found that after three months of CPAP therapy, only 4% of sleep apnea patients had symptoms of depression, compared to 73% at the beginning of the study.The human body is a complex machine. What initially appears to be one thing may actually be something else entirely. If you think you might have depression, make sure you rule out signs and symptoms of sleep apnea first.