Researchers Say That Patients Diagnosed with Depression May Actually Have Sleep Apnea


Senior man with a headacheA new research study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that patients who are diagnosed with depression may actually be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

The study, led by clinical professor David Hillman at the University of Western Australia, tested 426 patients who were referred to a hospital sleep center with suspected sleep apnea. Researchers used the Patient Health Questionnaire to assess each patient for symptoms of depression. After a serious of tests, 293 participants were diagnosed with sleep apnea. Of those diagnosed, 73% of participants had symptoms of depression.

According to Medical News Today, more than 25 million adults in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. This condition causes an obstruction in nightly breathing, which can be caused by a variety of issues, including problems with weight. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include pauses in breathing during sleep, frequent snoring, disrupted sleep, and tiredness during the day.

Many doctors recommend that patients diagnosed with sleep apnea use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which requires the use of special medical equipment to help relieve their symptoms.

“A CPAP machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn’t collapse when you breathe in,” says Rhyna Stroup, Mobility Healthcare. “Simply put, the purpose of the CPAP is to take away the struggle between labored breathing and sleep. The majority of our CPAP customers report experiencing better sleep within 2-4 weeks. They also report an increase in energy and mental alertness. One customer recently stated that he “felt like a new person” after just 4 weeks.”

The Times Gazette reports that 228 patients diagnosed with sleep apnea underwent CPAP therapy for three months. This included being hooked up to a CPAP machine for five hours a night. After the therapy, only 4% of participants still had clinically significant depression symptoms. Of those 41 patients who had originally reported feeling of self-hatred or suicidal thoughts, none reported having those same thoughts after the CPAP treatment.

“Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation,” says Hillman. “The findings highlight the potential for sleep apnea, a notoriously under-diagnosed condition, to be misdiagnosed as depression.”

The researchers hope that their findings will emphasize the importance of screening patients with depression symptoms for symptoms of sleep apnea.

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