Sleep Apnea and Depression Symptoms

Past research suggests that untreated sleep apnea may be related to a number of mood disorders. This may be due to the fact that sleep issues are associated with things like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. A lack of quality sleep can contribute to these disorders, and since we know that untreated sleep apnea disrupts sleep quality, it shouldn’t be too shocking that it may exacerbate or worsen mood disorders. In some cases, treating sleep apnea can immediately reverse health issues (e.g., sleepiness, morning headaches, etc.). Based on this knowledge, one may wonder if treating sleep apnea can quickly alleviate symptoms of a mood disorder, such as depression.

In a recent study, 30 middle-aged subjects were used to see whether the initiation of sleep apnea treatment (CPAP) would decrease the negative symptoms of depression. Each subject underwent a full overnight sleep study and was then set to use CPAP treatment for 2 months. Before treatment was initiated, subjects were given multiple questionnaires that assessed the severity and symptoms associated with depression. These same questionnaires were administered after 2 months of treatment and were compared with original responses.

Results showed that more than half of these subjects suffered from at least mild symptoms of depression (which is way more than the average population). Of the 10 patients who met the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, only 5 still had these symptoms after 2 months on CPAP. Additionally, many in the moderate depression group were classified as only mild following treatment, and most who had been classified as mild were classified as having no symptoms after treatment1.

Amazingly, in this population, many of the subjects had a reduction in depressive symptoms following just 2 months (a VERY short time) of CPAP usage. Although this study would have benefitted greatly from a control group, it still does make a case for CPAP being an effective complementary depression treatment when the sufferer also has untreated sleep apnea. Importantly, not every subject was helped by CPAP, meaning they require additional tools to fight their depression. Regardless of this fact, a little CPAP never hurt anyone!



1. Online Pre-publication: Egyptian Journal of Chest Diseases and Tuberculosis: “Effect of CPAP on depressive symptoms in OSA”

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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