A Surprising Finding: Sleep Apnea Is Linked With Depression!

If you have sleep apnea, you’re more likely to suffer from depression. I can’t help but to be amazed that theses type of studies are still performed. I know that in the name of science, you have to show that there are statistical associations between two conditions that are thought to be related. But it’s like doing a study that shows that if you cut your hand, you’re more likely to bleed, or if you trip over an uneven sidewalk, you’re more likely to fall.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know that not sleeping well for extended periods can definitely cause you to feel depressed. The skeptics will then point out that there’s only a strong association between depression and sleep apnea, and that it doesn’t show that sleep apnea actually causes depression. Knowing how prevalent sleep apnea is in our society (most of it undiagnosed), it makes sense to at least think about obstructive sleep apnea before you make a diagnosis of depression and prescribe antidepressants. Unfortunately, even if a randomized placebo-controlled prospective study of thousands of patents showed that having untreated sleep apnea leads to higher rates of clinical depression, it’s unlikely that physicians will change the way they diagnose and treat depression.

Interestingly, most antidepressants suppress REM sleep. Coincidentally, REM sleep is when you’re most likely to have obstructions and apneas, due to complete muscle relaxation in your throat. So anything that lowers REM sleep will by definition lower your rate of apneas. In fact, there are published studies showing that REM sleep deprivation can be helpful for depression. Not having as many apneas could make you feel better during the day. I realize this may be an overly simplistic explanation, but it’s definitely something that the scientific community should think more about.

Come to think of it, there are no prospective randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trials showing that drinking water cures dehydration. Millions of mothers are giving their children water every day to treat dehydration without FDA approval. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “A Surprising Finding: Sleep Apnea Is Linked With Depression!

  1. Dr Park,
    As I write this I am recovering from robotic base of tongue surgery that was done this past Friday April 13. I am extremely hopeful that after my 5-6 year long struggle with severe sleep apnea and moderate to severe depression I am on my way to a new and energized life. I still need to work at it and, continue to improve my breathing and slepp patterns. But I truly beleive that the ability to breathe properly is the single most overlooked cause of long term fatigue and depression. The sad reality is that many stuggle monumentally with deperession trying so hard to “snap out of it” or taking medication with no positve results. This leads to even more despair and depression. I have been one of these people. With the ability to breathe propery and fuel the engine correctly this will all change for the better.

    Thanks for all of your insights and your dedicaion to this most important health issue. I will be a fan for life and rwill continue to refer others to your work and web site.
    Walt Long

  2. Of course if people aren’t feeling well they will complain of the symptoms of depression. As a wife and mother, I’ve stopped accepting ‘depression’ as a real diagnosis, having seen it all too often in those around me.

    The term ‘depression’ is just a starting point to define a symptom list and to push physicians to find the cause. In fairness to physicians, the patient’s underlying condition[s] may not be knowable given current technologies. However, it is worth it to keep at it.

    Staying abreast of current breakthroughs is one way for patients to be empowered with questions for their doctors. Many thanks to Dr. Park for tirelessly [pun intended] keeping at it to help his patients and others who benefit from his blog.