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Sleep Apnea and Depression: 3 Facts You Should Know

By Michael Howard
Sleep apnea is frequently accompanied by depression. Learn more about the relationship between these conditions.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that obstructs your airway during sleep, resulting in symptoms such as loud snoring, breathing pauses, and gasping for air. In the absence of treatment, it can also increase your risk of developing numerous medical issues, including depression. Read on for three facts you should know about the link between sleep apnea and depression.

A large percentage of sleep apnea patients experience depression.

“Sleep apnea and depression are undoubtedly connected, with a reciprocal relationship,” Kent Smith, D-ABDSM, President of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Smith notes that poor sleep can aggravate the symptoms of mental health conditions, while these same conditions are known to cause poor sleep.

“In fact,” Smith adds, “several studies have identified a strong link between sleep apnea and depression, pointing to the fact that nearly 46% of sleep apnea sufferers also experience depression.”

Sleep apnea and depression can cause similar symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression include:

  • Irritability
  • Decreased energy
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches

All of these symptoms can also be caused by sleep apnea. This overlap, Smith explains, can make it difficult for healthcare providers to know which condition is primarily responsible for specific symptoms.

Sleep apnea and depression, he notes, “share many symptoms—including disturbed sleep, fatigue, loss of energy, restlessness, and loss of concentration—making it challenging to determine the impact of one condition over the other.” 

Treating sleep apnea can relieve depression.

Given the close relationship between the two conditions, people often find relief from depression after addressing their sleep apnea.

“By receiving proper treatment for sleep apnea, patients stand to improve not only their sleep but their mental health, too,” Smith says.

The first step is consulting a sleep specialist for proper evaluation and diagnosis. This should be done as soon as possible, as the symptoms and side effects of sleep apnea tend to get progressively worse.

Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.

“CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is the most commonly prescribed treatment for sleep apnea,” Smith says. “The machine forces continuous airflow through your nose to prevent the airway from collapsing when muscles relax during sleep, resulting in a continuous oxygen level throughout the night.”

A 2019 review published by The Lancet found that several months of consistent CPAP treatment is associated with reduced depression symptoms in sleep apnea patients.

Other sleep apnea treatment options, according to Smith, include oral appliance therapy (which involves a removable, mouthguard-like device) and surgery to expand your airway.

Think you may have sleep apnea? Start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.