Sleep Apnea Sometimes Misdiagnosed as Depression
Dr. Whitney Roban
Dr. Roban received her Ph.D. in Clinical and School Psychology from Hofstra University and is a Family, Educational, and Corporate Sleep Specialist. She’s the author of multiple books on sleep and regularly presents at schools and corporations around the country.
Are you one of the millions of people suffering from depression? Your depressive symptoms may be related to a common sleep disorder and fairly easy to treat according to new research. Sleep apnea may be commonly misdiagnosed as depression.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, showed that people with moderate to severe depressive symptoms had significant improvements when treated for sleep apnea with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). These startling results could change the way doctors diagnose and treat depression and sleep apnea.
A New Look at Sleep Health
The 426 participants were referred to a sleep center for sleep apnea evaluations. Of those, 293 participants in the study were diagnosed with sleep apnea. Research found the severity of the patient’s sleep apnea was directly related to the severity of depressive symptoms. Seventy three percent of those with sleep apnea had symptoms of depression and, the worse the apnea, the higher the likelihood of depressive symptoms.
Each of the sleep apnea patients was offered 5 hours of CPAP therapy a night for three months. Their use of the therapy was recorded over that period and a correlation was observed.
“Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation,” says clinical professor Dr. David R. Hillman of University of Western Australia.
On a related note, family, educational, and corporate sleep specialist Whitney Roban, Ph.D., says, “Sleep deprivation has been shown to have a negative effect on our physical, behavioral, and emotional health. In particular, our mental health suffers when we do not get enough sleep. People who already suffer with emotional issues such as anxiety and depression, will experience an exacerbation of symptoms when they are not well-rested. Sleep deprivation can also cause emotional issues in otherwise mentally healthy children and adults.”
To address this, Roban states, “When assessing a person for a psychological disorder, doctors should always screen for a sleep disorder before a final diagnosis is made. If a sleep disorder diagnosis is warranted, it is prudent to advise treatment for the sleep issue either before or in conjunction with treatment for the psychological disorder. It is truly amazing to see symptoms of emotional and behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD, ameliorate after improved sleep.”
Depression and Sleep Apnea
What does this mean for the future? If a significant portion of the population diagnosed with depression are actually experiencing depressive symptoms due to poor sleep quality caused by sleep apnea, we may be able to improve many of their depressive symptoms or even cure them of both sleep apnea and depression.
Sleep apnea symptoms can be alleviated with something as simple as an adjustable bed, a breathing machine, or lifestyle changes such as weight loss. Your physician or sleep specialist can assess your situation and identify the right treatment plan.
Indeed, doctors may begin to consider factors like sleep apnea more often when depressive symptoms are present, as research continues to show strong links between sleep quality/quantity and mental health.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.