Sleep Apnea Therapy Might Ease Depression, Too

Positive airway pressure even helps patients who fail to use the treatment as prescribed, study finds

TUESDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- Positive airway pressure, which is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, may also help ease symptoms of depression among people with the sleep-related breathing disorder, a new study suggests.

Although depression is common among people with sleep apnea, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center found that patients who used positive airway pressure therapy had fewer depressive symptoms -- even if they didn't follow the treatment exactly as prescribed.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat blocks the airway, which causes people to stop breathing while they are sleeping. The condition disrupts sleep and can increase the risk of other health problems such as heart disease and stroke. Positive airway pressure therapy helps correct this problem by keeping the airway open with a stream of air. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is the term commonly used to describe a form of the therapy that is delivered through a mask worn during sleep.

In conducting the study, researchers asked 779 sleep apnea patients to complete a questionnaire, known as PHQ-9, which assessed and scored their symptoms of depression. Following positive airway pressure treatment, the patients repeated the questionnaire. The study revealed that all of the participants reported improvements in their depression symptoms.

Patients using positive airway pressure for more than four hours each night showed more improvement than those who did not adhere to their treatment regimen as strictly.

"The score improvements remained significant even after taking into account whether a patient had a prior diagnosis of depression or was taking an antidepressant," lead investigator Dr. Charles Bae said in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

"The improvements were greatest in sleepy, adherent patients but even non-adherent patients had better PHQ-9 scores. Another interesting finding was that among patients treated with [positive airway pressure], married patients had a greater decrease in PHQ-9 scores compared to single or divorced patients," Bae added.

The study was scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about sleep apnea.

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