Figures from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) show that over 25 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when breathing is interrupted briefly and repeatedly during sleep.

Findings of a study by researchers from Australia have found a link between the development of this sleeping disorder, which is commonly characterized by chronic snoring, and depression.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, likewise revealed that treatment with continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP) is beneficial for both sleep apnea and depression.

David Hillman, from the University of Western Australia, said that the effective treatment of sleep apnea could lead to substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, which include suicidal thoughts.

The findings underscore the potential for sleep apnea, a commonly underdiagnosed condition, to be misdiagnosed as depression.

For their study, the researchers recruited 426 participants who were given CPAP therapy for a period of three months. The researchers found that most of the patients who were given CPAP therapy showed improvement in symptoms associated with depression.

Only 4 percent of the patients who stuck to the therapy continued to show clinically significant depressive symptoms. None of the 41 patients who initially had feelings of self-farm and hopelessness and took the CPAP treatment, on the other hand, reported consistent suicidal tendencies at follow-up period.

"Depressive symptoms are common in OSA and related to its severity. They improve markedly with CPAP, implying a relationship to untreated OSA," the researchers wrote in their study.

Sleep apnea is usually hard to diagnose because those who have the condition do not realize they have difficulty breathing when they have woken up. Of the three forms of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common affecting 84 percent of the sufferers.

Sleep apnea increases risks for chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease if it remains untreated.

Researchers recommend that patients who suffer from depression should be evaluated for sleep apnea symptoms such as habitual snoring, disrupted sleep, breathing pauses and excessive sleepiness during the day.

Experts said that a good night sleep is protective of the brain. Evidence likewise shows that having good sleep and regular routine help against the recurrence of mania. To sleep better at night, it is recommended to cut down on caffeine and alcohol. Skipping on afternoon naps can also help.

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões | Flickr 

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