Establishing a link between depression and a sleep disorder is similar to asking the age-old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?
It’s a well-known fact that depression can cause sleep problems. But there is also evidence of sleep problems contributing to depressive disorders. A study found that men with sleep apnoea and insomnia had a much higher rate of depressive symptoms compared with the control population. Of the 700 men examined, 43% of those with both conditions had depression.
What’s the connection?
Sleep-disordered breathing has been linked with depression for some time. Among depressed patients, insomnia is very common. The forms of insomnia can be varied, but mostly include:
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty staying asleep
Research indicates that the risk of developing depression is highest among people who have trouble staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia) and people with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). Sleep apnoea occurs when the muscles in the throat relax too much. The walls of the airway start to stick together, and breathing can then completely stop for around 10-30 seconds at a time.
One study assessed the quality of life in patients who had severe sleep apnoea. The results showed that compared to the normal control subjects, patients with sleep apnoea had a decreased quality of life. They tended to display symptoms that strongly correlated with depression.
Can it be treated?
Both insomnia and sleep apnoea are strongly associated with poor mental health outcomes. And depression is often misdiagnosed because many of its symptoms overlap with those of sleep apnoea. But the good news is that by treating sleep apnoea, the symptoms of depression can be improved.
Doctors often recommend a CPAP machine to treat sleep apnoea. (This works by using air pressure to force air through the breathing obstruction). However, if you find you are unable to use CPAP every night due to discomfort, another option is to wear an oral device in conjuction with it – these appliances gently move your jaw into the right position to open up your airways while you sleep.
If you suspect you’re suffering from either condition, visit your doctor as soon as possible. They’ll be able to recommend the best treatment option for you, and to confirm you are able to use an oral device. Dealing with your sleep disorder can help you feel like a new person – you’ll improve your sleep and your health.