Sleep Apnea and Depression

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • This week's bulletin from the National Sleep Foundation reports that there's new evidence for a link between sleep apnea and depression. I learned about this by first-hand experience.


    My Experience

    As I've mentioned before, my husband suffered from sleep apnea. Norman was a big man, a man's man. I saw him lose his mother and two brothers and never shed a tear. He grieved, yes, but he kept his grieving to himself.


    I'll never forget the first time I saw him cry. We were sitting at the kitchen table talking about the kids, and some simple innocuous thing set him off. I can't even recall what it was. The next thing I knew, he had tears streaming down his face.

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    That was the first time he cried. It certainly wasn't the last. Who could blame him? His world was falling apart. He could no longer enjoy the things he loved - fishing, boating, even a television show. He was always falling asleep. The illness had driven him into a clinical depression.


    Sleep Apnea and Depression

    The National Sleep Foundation press release reports that:
    People with depression are five times more likely to have a breathing-related sleep disorder than non-depressed people, according to a study at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The study is the first to show a link between depression and sleep apnea along with its related disorders.


    Which comes first?

    The report tells us:
    It remains unclear whether depression occurred before or after sleep apnea, and to what extent sleep apnea contributes to the maintenance or aggravation of depression. Ohayon said the link between treating sleep apnea syndrome and the evolution of depressive disorders needs further investigation. He hopes physicians will consider the association between the disorders and depression when treating depressed patients. "Once people have their sleep apnea recognized, there is a lot we can do to help them," he said.



    Yet another disorder may be involved. People with sleep apnea and/or depression often suffer from diabetes as well.

    People with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from depression as non-diabetics. Research suggests that depression often helps trigger the diabetes.


    Yet another study reveals that adults with obstructive sleep apnea are three times more likely to also have diabetes. The study suggests that anyone going to a doctor for a sleep apnea exam should also request he or she be screened for diabetes.


    Why are these three disorders so often seen together? The answer is simple - excess weight gain.


    The Weight Connection

    Depression often causes a propensity to overeat, plus there is sometimes little energy or desire to get out and exercise. The result? Added and unwanted pounds.


    Excess weight is a very common factor in people with sleep apnea. Once you become an apnea victim, even more weight piles on. Not only is the ability or desire to exercise even more decreased, sleep apnea may cause changes in the body that lead to weight gain.


    Overeating and a lack of exercise are prime factors in the development of diabetes. Diabetes again leads back to depression and the same vicious circle.


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    Obesity is, according to Diabetes News, second only to smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Unfortunately, those who are overweight don't believe that the weight causes a serious threat to their health. Many of them won't even admit that they are seriously overweight.


    This self-imposed blindness adds to the risk. Obesity, as I have mentioned, is a large factor in sleep apnea, diabetes and depression. It can also lead to high blood pressure, high or abnormal cholesterol levels, heart disease and stroke. It is even thought that obesity can cause certain types of cancer.


    Why take chances? Instead, make plans to control your weight instead of letting it control you. Check out some diets and weight loss clinics. When trying to lose weight, exercise is also important.


    For more on diet and exercise, visit Health Central's Diet and Exercise pages.

Published On: June 20, 2007