New research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that people who experience sleep disordered breathing – snorting, gasping and / or stopped breathing during sleep – are more likely to suffer symptoms of depression than people who do not have these sleep- related breathing problems.

Searching for a Link

For the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers polled a national sample of 9,714 male and female adults, 18 years of age or older. The participants were asked how often they experience snoring, snorting, gasping for breath or stopped breathing while asleep. The participants were also asked to complete a nine-question “depression screener” on how often they experienced symptoms associated with “probable major depression.” The researchers also took into account variables such as a participant's race, ethnicity, age and education. It is important to note that participant's answers were based on self-reported symptoms, and that some people may not be aware that they are suffering from sleep disordered breathing symptoms.

Results of the Survey

According to the results of the study, which are published in the April Sleep journal, sleep apnea, snorting, gasping and / or stopped breathing while sleeping were all associated with symptoms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness and failure.

Other results of the survey:

  • Of the men polled, 6.0 percent reported physician-diagnosed sleep apnea, 37.2 percent snored greater than or equal to five nights a week, 7.1 percent snorted / stopped breathing greater than or equal to five nights a week, and 5.0 percent had depression symptom screener scores greater than or equal to 10.
  • Among the women, 3.1 percent reported physician-diagnosed sleep apnea, 22.4 percent snored greater than or equal to five nights a week, 4.3 percent snorted / stopped breathing greater than or equal to five nights a week, and 8.4 percent had depression symptom screener scores greater than or equal to 10.
  • Sleep apnea was associated with probable major depression.
  • Snorting / stopped breathing greater than or equal to 5 nights a week was strongly associated with probable major depression in men and women.
  • Snoring was not found to be associated with symptoms of depression in men or women.

The Researcher's Conclusion

Prior to the study, the researchers knew that depression and sleep disordered breathing are both common, but often misdiagnosed, medical conditions. They were also aware of previous studies on similar subjects. One study showed a link between the severity of breathing problems and the likelihood of later developing depression, and another indicated that people who were treated for their sleep apnea symptoms also showed improvement in their depression symptoms.

The researchers are hiring that the results of their CDC study encourage dialogue between mental health professionals and doctors – that both become more aware of the connection between sleep disordered breathing problems and symptoms of depression, and that sleep disordered breathing problems may also be an indicator of depression and vice versa.

Read the full study “Sleep Disordered Breathing and Depression among US Adults: National Health and Nutrition Survey, 2005-2008.”