Sleep Apnea and Depression: The Worrisome Connection You Should Know About

Understand sleep apnea and depression.

In recent years, we’ve heard more and more not only about mental health conditions, but the importance of prioritizing our mental health. It turns out that it’s not just our physical body that we need to take care of—it really is the mind, body, and soul. And depression, in particular, is one of those health conditions that needs to take center stage. An estimated 8.3% of U.S. adults have what is referred to as major depressive episodes—a condition that can last multiple weeks.

Depression can have a serious effect on a person’s life and wellbeing, but there is also another surprising link with studies showing that many people who have depression also have sleep apnea. 

What is sleep apnea?

We know you’ve heard of depression, but the term “sleep apnea” might be new to you. And just what is sleep apnea? It’s a serious sleep disorder where your breathing stops and starts multiple times throughout the night. This interruption in breathing can lead to a lack of oxygen in your body, causing you to wake up frequently during the night. 

Sleep apnea symptoms typically include things such as loud snoring, which is often witnessed by your sleep partner, gasping to get more air during sleep, experiencing dry mouth upon waking, excessive daytime sleepiness, and even morning headaches that can’t be explained by something else. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to more severe health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure.

Here are the types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): This is the most prevalent form of sleep apnea, affecting about 39 million adults in the U.S. It is a common condition when your throat muscles relax, effectively blocking your airway.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA): This happens when your brain doesn’t communicate with the muscles that keep you breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome (treatment emergent sleep apnea): This syndrome happens if you have both OSA and CSA.

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Depression

When you think about it, waking up tired every day can get in the way of enjoying the day. Fatigue makes it hard to focus and stay on task. You can feel like you are just dragging your weight from place to place, simply trying to check the boxes. Sounds depressing, right? Bingo!

That’s exactly part of the challenge with sleep apnea and depression—those with sleep apnea are more likely to demonstrate signs of depression. In fact, a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that 18% of respondents with a depressive disorder (4% of all respondents) also had a breathing-related sleep disorder.

Sleep disruptions can affect the brain’s neurotransmitter function, particularly serotonin, which plays an integral role in mood regulation. When serotonin levels are off, it can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Additionally, sleep apnea affects the body’s stress system and circadian rhythms, which can throw off your internal clock and increase your vulnerability to depression.

Other Sleep Issues and Depression

Of course, sleep apnea is not the only sleep-related issue correlated with depression. Many people with insomnia also battle depression. It’s a similar situation to sleep apnea, when you think about it. People with insomnia struggle to get a good night’s sleep, and, as a result, they are often fatigued during the day, which gets in their way of being productive and finding enjoyment. But insomnia is not the only other sleep-related issue that can contribute to depression.

Hypersomnia, which is excessive sleepiness during the day despite getting a full night’s sleep, can also contribute to depression. Unlike insomnia, where people can’t fall or stay asleep, those with hypersomnia feel an overwhelming need to sleep during the day. This constant tiredness can make it hard to function and enjoy daily activities, similar to insomnia. Both conditions disrupt normal sleep patterns, affecting mental health and increasing the risk of depression.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Thankfully, if you have sleep apnea, treatment options are available (and your physician can help with the treatment of insomnia and hypersomnia). Common treatments for sleep apnea include CPAP machines, which keep your airway open while you sleep, and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, getting more exercise, reducing daytime stress, and losing weight. Surgery may sometimes be necessary to remove obstructions in the airway. CinciSleep offers custom-made oral appliances for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea. These are a great solution for patients who cannot tolerate a CPAP machine.

Managing depression involves a comprehensive approach, and addressing sleep issues is a big part of this plan. Strategies may include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes to improve both sleep and mood. Remember, only a doctor can diagnose sleep apnea, but your Milford dental care team can help identify potential issues and recommend appropriate treatment options. 

Have you been diagnosed with sleep apnea and want alternatives to a CPAP machine?

While a CPAP machine is the most common treatment for sleep apnea, it doesn’t work for many patients. Some find the sleep mask too invasive, making it hard to sleep in a comfortable position. For others, their sleep partner is disrupted by the sounds of the machine, even though today’s CPAP devices are quieter than those of yesteryear.

If the CPAP machine isn’t working for you, come see us. We can prescribe a custom-made oral device you can wear when you sleep. Because it is custom-made, it is comfortable to wear and only takes a short while to get used to. You and your sleep partner will appreciate its effectiveness, and we’re confident that, after a few nights of good sleep, you will start to feel better—mind, body, and soul.

Don’t let your sleep apnea exacerbate depression symptoms. Schedule an appointment with CinciSmiles today and get the good night’s sleep you’ve been craving.