Can CPAP Therapy Reduce Symptoms of Depression?

There have been many studies published about the link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and multiple other negative physical afflictions including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and the consequential link to stroke, heart attack and, most recently, cancer.  In general, people with sleep apnea who are either undiagnosed or non-compliance are at greater risk for complications associated with the lack of sleep than people without sleep apnea.  Sleep deprivation has taken on new meaning in the world of medicine and seemingly one of the core factors contributing to overall poor health.

Yet, there have been relatively few studies researching the link between lack of sleep and mental health.  We do know that the lack of sleep impacts judgment, concentration, irritability, driving, energy levels, relationships and even sexual function.  In essence, sleep deprivation is bad and dramatically affects the overall quality of a person’s life.

Moreover, people with obstructive sleep apnea typically show symptoms of depression including a feeling of hopelessness, being anxious, fatigue, restlessness and overeating.  Curious about the relationship, Charles Bae, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, and his team researched the link between CPAP therapy and depression.  They theorized that a person afflicted with sleep apnea but now compliant on CPAP therapy would show signs of mental improvement.  In conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic, he studied nearly 800 patients who were asked to fill out a standardized form assessing their depressive symptoms.  It is one of the largest studies to consider the effect of CPAP therapy on depressive symptoms and measured by Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ).

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After establishing compliance with CPAP therapy, patients were assessed again with the same PHQ.  The results indicated that all patients on CPAP therapy showed signs of improvement.  More encouraging, though, was that patients using their CPAP machines more than four hours a night were shown to have greater score improvements than people who were less compliant.  One other interesting point from the study’s finding were that among patients treated with CPAP therapy, married patients had a greater decrease in PHQ scores compared to single or divorced patients.

As more research is compiled to understand the link between the importance of sleep and the overall health of a person, the evidence clearly points to CPAP therapy and the use of a CPAP machine as a critical factor in reversing negative effects of sleep deprivation.  With depression being an incredibly complicated and debilitating disease, the evidence suggests strongly that depressive symptoms improve in patients with sleep apnea who use a CPAP machine on a consistent basis.