Apnea Treatment Can Alleviate Depression
> 6/27/2008 3:46:00 PM


Sleep deprivation can, over time, lead to emotional instability. Repeated studies find sleep-deprived subjects exhibiting far more extreme amygdala activation when presented with frightening pictures. Building on these fMRI findings, sleep researchers demonstrated that the treatment of a sleep disorder can ameliorate symptoms of depression.

The study focused on sleep apnea, a respiratory disturbance that impairs breathing in thousands of unsuspecting sufferers, causing them to wake frequently during the night for periods of time too small to remember but disruptive enough to significantly decrease the quality of sleep. This condition is often accompanied by mental illness; a 2003 study revealed that depressed individuals are five times more likely to have breathing-related sleep disorders. Subjects involved in the apnea study were evaluated on the Beck Depression Inventory and treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. While the CPAP mask is uncomfortable and loud, sufferers of sleep apnea may be persuaded to try it by these findings: those whose sleep apnea responded to treatment showed a significant improvement in depression symptoms as well.

Now that we know that sleep disorder treatment can improve emotional imbalances, we need to adopt better methods of assessing sleep disturbances. The traditional method of detection is entry into a sleep clinic for at least one night and/or the attachment of a pressure or heat sensor to the mouth and nose. These approaches are not optimal because patients often fail to sleep normally due to the strange new environment of the clinic or the discomfort of the sensor, and even if they manage to snooze in spite of that apparatus, the quality of their sleep will almost certainly be compromised. Fortunately, non-invasive methods of detection can be very accurate. One experiment found that remote infrared imaging cameras, placed 6-8 feet from a subject’s head, detected 20 distinct disturbance events whereas pressure sensors only detected 19. This impressive showing is strong evidence that remote sensors are preferable to invasive methods.

All of this exciting new research means that you should listen carefully if your partner complains that you snore or toss and turn all night. Tests for sleep apnea are now much more convenient, and the available treatments can make you and your loved ones healthier and happier.

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