March 01, 2020

Tough-to-treat depression? Check for sleep apnea

Depression doesn't always respond to therapy or antidepressants. Sometimes that's because there's an undetected health issue causing or worsening depression, such as a vitamin deficiency or hormone disorder.

Recent research has highlighted another health problem to check for when faced with stubborn depression: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is a sleep disorder in which the muscles at the back of your throat intermittently relax too much, blocking your airway. Breathing repeatedly stops and starts, causing interruptions in restful sleep that you may not be aware of.

The study, published in the September 2019 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, examined adults with depression and insomnia. The initial study focus involved screening out adults with OSA. Therefore, researchers recruited 125 participants who they thought were unlikely to have OSA. However, a subsequent sleep test found that OSA was present in 14% of the participants, suggesting an association with resistant depression.

Treating OSA is good for its own sake, but could also potentially help alleviate symptoms of depression, the study stated. Multiple studies have found that treating OSA with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) lessened depression symptoms, although other studies have found no effect.

Mayo Clinic experts suggest asking your doctor about the possibility of OSA if you have depression, particularly if it's resistant to treatment, as OSA treatments could be beneficial. Asking partners or family members about disrupted breathing or snoring during sleep is another good strategy.