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A Surprising Finding: Sleep Apnea Is Linked With Depression!

Posted Apr 05 2012 7:00am

If you have sleep apnea, you’re more likely to suffer from depression. I can’t help but to be amazed that theses type of studies are still performed. I know that in the name of science, you have to show that there are statistical associations between two conditions that are thought to be related. But it’s like doing a study that shows that if you cut your hand, you’re more likely to bleed, or if you trip over an uneven sidewalk, you’re more likely to fall.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know that not sleeping well for extended periods can definitely cause you to feel depressed. The skeptics will then point out that there’s only a strong association between depression and sleep apnea, and that it doesn’t show that sleep apnea actually causes depression. Knowing how prevalent sleep apnea is in our society (most of it undiagnosed), it makes sense to at least think about obstructive sleep apnea before you make a diagnosis of depression and prescribe antidepressants. Unfortunately, even if a randomized placebo-controlled prospective study of thousands of patents showed that having untreated sleep apnea leads to higher rates of clinical depression, it’s unlikely that physicians will change the way they diagnose and treat depression.

Interestingly, most antidepressants suppress REM sleep. Coincidentally, REM sleep is when you’re most likely to have obstructions and apneas, due to complete muscle relaxation in your throat. So anything that lowers REM sleep will by definition lower your rate of apneas. In fact, there are published studies showing that REM sleep deprivation can be helpful for depression. Not having as many apneas could make you feel better during the day. I realize this may be an overly simplistic explanation, but it’s definitely something that the scientific community should think more about.

Come to think of it, there are no prospective randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trials showing that drinking water cures dehydration. Millions of mothers are giving their children water every day to treat dehydration without FDA approval. 

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