Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment is best known for helping millions of people who suffer from sleep apnea. But CPAP therapy has also been shown to alleviate a number of other health problems as well, including depression.
In fact, there’s a strong correlation between sleep apnea and depression. One study, published in the journal Sleep in 2012, found up to 63% of people suffering from untreated sleep apnea also suffer from depressive symptoms. This is consistent for both men and women who have sleep apnea.
Another five-year study, led by a Stanford researcher who looked at nearly 20,000 people from Western Europe, found those suffering from depression were five times as likely to have sleep disordered breathing, and sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep disordered breathing.
Depression, like sleep apnea, is a common disorder that impacts millions of Americans. More than 8% of U.S. adults aged 20 and older suffer from depression, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.That figure increases when looking at someone’s entire life, with about one out of six people, or 16.6%, suffering from depression at at least one point in their life.
Left untreated, depression can negatively impact your work, your sex life, your self-esteem and your relationship with friends; it can also lead to suicide and other forms of self-harm.
Most people don’t associate sleep apnea treatments with solutions for their depression. But research indicates CPAP treatment for those suffering from sleep apnea can lead to significant improvements in their mood.
If you believe you’re suffering from untreated sleep apnea and depression, looking into CPAP therapy could be a great decision. And for those who have used a CPAP machine but later abandoned their treatment, only to notice their depression return, this post will hopefully help you better understand the link between depression and quality sleep.
Many Similarities Between Depression Symptoms and Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Sleep apnea and depression have a handful of similar symptoms. This is one of the first things that jumps out to doctors and scientists researching the link between the two disorders.
Below are symptoms of both depression and sleep apnea, with shared symptoms highlighted in bold.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Memory problems
- Inability to focus
- Frequently waking up during the night
- Diminished sex drive
Symptoms of Depression
- Inability to focus
- Changes to your eating habits
- A lack of pleasure from activities you once enjoyed
- Diminished sex drive
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
One issue researchers find is that treating depression with antidepressants can fall short. In these cases, it’s often because the underlying sleep disorder contributing to depression hasn’t been addressed. In other words: without treating sleep apnea, depression can remain a problem, even when medication is prescribed.
Treating Sleep Apnea With CPAP Therapy Helps Alleviate Depression
The overlapping symptoms between sleep apnea and depression can make it difficult for doctors to both diagnose and treat their patients. Even when medication is provided for depressed patients, many of the underlying symptoms will not subside if their sleep apnea is left undiagnosed and untreated.
Fortunately, there is now a compelling amount of research that shows CPAP therapy can significantly improve a patients’ mental wellbeing.
One study, published in 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found CPAP therapy led to a major decrease in depression symptoms among its participants. At baseline, 213 out of 293 people — or 73% — involved in the study showed clinically significant depressive symptoms.
Out of the 293 participants who were prescribed CPAP therapy, 228 adhered to their treatment plan of averaging at least 5 hours of CPAP therapy per night for 3 months. The results were striking: after 3 months, the percentage of participants who reported depressive symptoms plunged from 73% to 4%, with only 9 out of 228 patients saying they were still depressed following regular CPAP therapy.
Perhaps even more encouraging, there were 41 people who, at the beginning of the study, said they had urges of committing self-harm or felt they would be “better dead”; after 3 months of CPAP therapy, none of the patients reported they wanted to harm themselves or were considering suicide.
Similar results have been found by other studies in recent years. Last year, researchers found CPAP therapy not only helps depressive symptoms in the short-term but also in the long-term. The study looked at more than 2,000 participants and followed them for nearly 4 years; at the conclusion, there was a “significant” reduction in patients who reported depressive symptoms following CPAP treatment. Overall, there was about an 80% drop in patients who reported experiencing depression following extensive CPAP therapy.
Researchers continue to investigate why CPAP therapy is such an effective treatment for depression.
A common hypothesis, though, is that poor sleep can dramatically influence our mood and can lead to a spike in depressive symptoms, including fatigue and irritability. By targeting those symptoms, which are also shared with those suffering from sleep apnea, CPAP diminishes several factors that contribute to depression.
In short: you’re not you when you don’t get quality sleep, so if you believe sleep apnea is compounding your depressive symptoms, be sure to take our easy Sleep Quiz, which will help you determine whether sleep apnea is getting in the way of you getting a good night’s sleep.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has impacted countless businesses in Tennessee and nationwide, but our offices remain on a normal schedule, while our staff is following additional infection prevention protocols, to further ensure the safety of our patients. We’ve also recently released OSAinHomeSM, our innovative program where patients at risk of sleep apnea can undergo evaluation and treatment without ever leaving their homes. Not only safe from exposure to the virus, OSAinHomeSM has also reduced the treatment of OSA from months to as little as 5-10 days and at a fraction of the cost of spending the night in an expensive sleep lab.
We’ll get through this together, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with poor sleep and depressive symptoms while self-isolating. If you’re ready to discover how a sleep specialist can help you, contact Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee today and we can get you set up for better sleep.
Wheaton, Anne G., et al. (2012). Sleep disordered breathing and depression among U.S. adults: national health and nutrition examination survey, 2005-2008. Sleep 35(4): 461-467. Retrieved on March 18, 2020 from:
Ohayon, M.M. (2003). The effects of breathing-related sleep disorders on mood disturbances in the general population. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 64(10): 1195-1200. Retrieved on March 18, 2020 from:
Edwards, Cass, et al. (2015). Depressive symptoms before and after treatment of obstructive sleep apnea in men and women. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 11(9). Retrieved on March 19, 2020 from:
Zheng, Danni, et al. (2019). Effects of continuous positive airway pressure on depression and anxiety symptoms in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea; results from the sleep apnoea cardiovascular endpoint randomised trial and meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine 13(11): 89-96. Retrieved on March 19, 2020 from: