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Does Sleep Apnea Cause Depression?


For many people, waking up in the morning is the bright beginning of a new day. For people with sleep apnea, however, waking up is often the start of another long, miserable struggle to function. It may not be surprising, then, that the CDC found that men with sleep apnea have a doubled chance of depression while women with sleep apnea are five times as likely to suffer from depression.  Several sleep apnea symptoms are similar to symptoms of depression, but beyond that, sleep apnea may also contribute to depression directly and indirectly.

Similar Symptoms between Depression and Sleep Apnea

Researchers have long known that depressed people are more likely to have restless sleep, low energy, cognitive problems and lack of enjoyment. People with sleep apnea have been shown to experience these same issues, prompting some researchers to wonder whether sleep apnea symptoms might be mistaken for those of depression. However, depression symptoms are not necessarily caused by sleep apnea.

For example, poor sleep can be the result of stress, a known risk factor for depression. The low energy and reduced motivation that result from poor sleep are both common among those with depression. Cognitive dullness is also commonly seen in people with severe depression, to the point of catatonia in rare cases. Naturally, motivation and cognition are bound to be disturbed in people who are fatigued due to sleep apnea.

How Sleep Apnea May Cause Depression

Sleep apnea might cause depression in a variety of ways. The person with severe sleep apnea lives in a haze that can easily make life seem pointless and dull. Going to bed at night can cause feelings of dread and anxiety due to fears of dying. In many cases, waking up in the morning is never cause for celebration as patients feel more fatigued than when they went to bed the night before.

Performance at work and at home is often drastically affected by fragmented sleep, resulting in loss of confidence and self-esteem as the patient realizes his or her inability to compete or excel. Relationships can also be affected by sleep apnea due to nightly snoring and restlessness, emotional dullness and lack of understanding by significant others who can’t relate despite trying. All of these factors can combine to make depression more likely in sleep apnea patients.

Brain Changes and Lack of Recuperation

The nightly sleep disruptions and deoxygenation caused by sleep apnea directly impact the brain and might cause depression as a result. Deep sleep and REM sleep are both reduced in people with sleep apnea, resulting in hampered restoration at night and cognitive problems the next day. Deoxygenation directly causes brain damage that is known to accumulate over time in sleep apnea patients. Although scientists do not fully understand the connections between brain functioning and depression, damage caused through these mechanisms might change the brain over time and result in depression.




Sleep Disorder Multiplies Depression Risk

US Department of Health and Human Services-Women’s Department
Obstructive Sleep Apnea May Be Linked to Depression

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