Sleep Apnea & Depression Linked

by Dr. Dana Rockey, DMD, Owner, Prescott Sleep Solutions

Over the past couple of decades, both the incidences of sleep apnea and major depressive disorder have risen. Today, an estimated 10% to 30% of adults in the United States have sleep apnea and more than 8% of adults have depression.

More revealing, researchers are confirming that much of the crossover between the two conditions is far more than coincidence.

Here, we explore the two-way relationship between depression and sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea and depression at a glance

It’s helpful to understand how each affects you. 

Sleep apnea (more specifically, obstructive sleep apnea) is a condition in which the soft tissues at the back of your throat collapse while you sleep, interfering with your ability to breathe. Each time this happens, your brain arouses you so that you can clear the airways to breathe again, and this can happen dozens of times per hour.

As a result, you’re unable to get the restorative sleep you need, which can affect your health and wellness in myriad ways, including:

  • Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
  • Metabolic changes
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory issues
  • Mood disturbances

This last point is where the link to depression comes in, which is a condition characterized by feelings of overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, fatigue and irritability. 

The bidirectional link

While it makes sense that losing sleep due to sleep apnea can affect your mood, researchers are linking the sleep disturbance and mood regulation disorder in more clinical terms. For example, research shows that 46% of people with sleep apnea have symptoms of depression.

One study found that major depressive disorder is associated with an 18% prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea and, going in the other direction, obstructive sleep apnea has nearly the same prevalence of clinical depression, 17.6%.

The research linking the two conditions is so compelling that many experts recommend evaluating all patients with depression, especially treatment-resistant depression, for untreated sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea

If you suspect your depressive symptoms may be related to sleep apnea, it’s important that you get an evaluation as to whether you have the sleep disturbance disorder.

Using an oral appliance that you wear at night, or non-surgical NightLase laser therapy, can help keep your airways open, allowing you to get the restful sleep you need for better mental health.