Did you know depression affects approximately 18 million Americans or nearly 10% of the US population. While the causes of depression are many, new studies have recently linked depression to a lack of sleep caused primarily by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when the airways collapse periodically during sleep. This causes the sufferer to wake up at intervals, before falling asleep again. Instead of having a continuous rest period, their sleep is broken up into tiny fragments, so the next morning they are excessively tired and feel drowsy through the day.

Recent studies carried out on individuals to study the correlation between OSA and depression found the following:

  • 800 individuals out of 10,000 individuals had both disorders namely obstructive sleep apnea and depressive disorder.
  • More OSA patients (approximately 29%) met the criteria for depression.
  • 50% of individuals who are affected by OSA are above the age of 65 and of these 26% have both disorders (OSA and depression).

Unfortunately, the patients who have depressive symptoms are rarely assessed for obstructive sleep apnea.

The shared symptoms in OSA and depression which researchers have noted are:

  • Generalized fatigue
  • Lack of concentration and alertness
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Gasping for breath
  • Snorting
  • Poorly motivated
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawn
  • Lack of energy
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Losing pleasure in daily activities
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Psychological problems.

The severity of these symptoms may vary from individual to individual and the impact they have on daily activities may also differ. But, as the symptoms of both these disorders mimic the symptoms of each other, they are often left untreated, misdiagnosed or are often not diagnosed at all.

What can you do if you or your loved ons show signs of either depression and you suspect it may be due to obstructive sleep apnea?

First, consult with your primary doctor. Advise him of your symptoms. Sleep apnea has gained nationwide attention in recent years and most doctors will not hesitate to order a sleep study if some symptoms of sleep apnea are present.

Secondly, if you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, wear the prescribed therapy which usually means wearing a CPAP machine at night. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure and is a small device that generates a positive air pressure that “splints” opens the airways at night to prevent the airway from collapsing. It is worn with a mask while you sleep. The past few years have generated new mask and technologies that are making CPAP easier to wear and tolerate.

By treating your obstructive sleep apnea and getting a good nights sleep you may find, as many studies have shown, that your depressive symptoms may also begin to go away making life enjoyable once again.

So if your feeling tired and “blue” it may not be depressed alone, it may be time for a sleep study!