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The link between sleep apnea and depression

New research shows that sleep apnea may be the reason that many depression treatments fail.

Depression is one of the most widespread mental health issues worldwide, and now research suggests that sleep apnea could be behind many cases of treatment-resistant depression. If this is the case, proper diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea could go a long way in alleviating some of the symptoms of depression. Read on to find out more about the findings of the study…

What did the research find?

The study, which was conducted at the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research, examined the rate of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea by studying 125 people who suffered from depression. The researchers tested the participants of the study by means of a sleep study and found that almost 14 percent of them had obstructive sleep apnea. Of the 125 participants, 52 had treatment resistant depression, eight of whom also had obstructive sleep apnea.

According to the research team behind the study, underlying conditions like hypothyroidism, cancer and carotid artery disease, are often the cause of treatment resistant depression. This means that in many cases, individuals with depression undergo extensive testing to try and determine the cause of their depression treatment failure. While this can be useful, the researchers suggest that it could be helpful to begin with a sleep test because people with obstructive sleep apnea do not typically respond well to antidepressant medications. For this reason, it is worth testing for sleep apnea and addressing the issue if necessary.

What is a sleep test?

A sleep test is performed to differentiate snoring from sleep apnea or to diagnose the severity of the condition. It is performed overnight and is used to evaluate what the body is doing during sleep. A typical sleep study will include a number of components, including electroencephalogram; electrooculogram; electromyogram; electrocardiogram; right and left leg EMG; nasal/oral airflow; thoracic respiratory effort; abdominal respiratory effort; snoring; SaO2; heart rate; and video monitoring.

During a sleep test, the respiratory disturbance index (RDI) is used to measure the severity of the sleep disorder. The RDI is a number that represents how many times breathing stops or becomes very shallow each hour and is an important index because it is very often associated with the disruption of sleep, as well as dangerous drops in blood oxygen levels. Generally, an RDI of five or below is considered normal, while an RDI over 40 may indicate severe disease.

How does sleep deprivation affect the body?

Ongoing sleep deprivation can cause a range of issues, including daytime drowsiness, emotional problems, poor performance at school or work, and mood problems like irritability and even depression. In fact, a loss of sleep actually changes the normal functioning of attention and disrupts one’s ability to focus properly. Insufficient sleep also prevents the body from strengthening the immune system, making one more prone to chronic illness and generally increasing recovery time following illness.

Sleep deprivation can also affect body weight as the hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness are affected by sleep. A loss of sleep also tends to cause an increased release of insulin, leading to higher fat storage than usual and an increased risk of type two diabetes.

Some of the most common symptoms of sleep deprivation include moodiness, irritability, daytime sleepiness, low mood, a lack of motivation, reduced sex drive and difficulty learning and retaining new concepts.

If you suspect that you are suffering from sleep deprivation or that obstructive sleep apnea could be hindering the effectiveness of your depression treatment, we encourage you to come in for a consultation.

To arrange a consultation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.