Could Sleep Apnea Be Misdiagnosed for Depression?

By John Ramspott from Oxford, GA, USA [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

According to the results of a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, almost 70% of individuals who suffer from sleep apnea also experience the symptoms of depression. These findings might indicate a chance that sleep apnea could be even misdiagnosed as depression in some people.

However, the study also notes that depressive symptoms among people with sleep apnea could be alleviated through the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder and it involves a person having one or more pauses in their breathing or shallowing breathing while asleep. The pauses in breath can last for a few seconds or a few minutes. These pauses can happen up to thirty times in an hour and then normal breathing resumes, usually with a loud snort or choking sound. This condition is chronic and it is very disruptive to a person’s sleep, so receiving treatment is important.

The Statistics

Around 25 million adults in the United States currently suffer from sleep apnea, or obstructive sleep apnea. Chronic snoring is the main symptom of sleep apnea and previous research studies have suggested that it can raise the risks of depression.
If it is left untreated, it can wind up causing high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. CPAP therapy is the most common method for treating sleep apnea. A CPAP machine involves putting a mask over your nose and mouth when sleeping, which helps to keep airway open by gently blowing air into it.

In this most recent study, Dr. David R. Hillman, professor at the University of Western Australia and his team set about to gain a better understanding of the commonality of depression symptoms among people with sleep apnea and to find out whether CPAP therapy could be an effective way of alleviating these symptoms.

The greater someone’s sleep apnea is, the higher the risk of them developing depression. The team studied 426 people, 243 men and 183 women, who had been referred to a local hospital sleep center for suspected sleep apnea.

Using a questionnaire, the participants in the study were evaluated for depression symptoms. A diagnosis of sleep apnea was made after using overnight polysomnography or sleep study results which involves recording brain waves, breathing patterns, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and leg and eye movements during the sleep process.

In 293 participants, sleep apnea was diagnosed, of that number 213 had the baseline symptoms of depression.

Participants diagnosed with sleep apnea were offered CPAP therapy for 90-days. Researchers found that 228 participants that had sleep apnea experienced a great reduction in depression symptoms after 90-days; once treatment concluded, only 9 of these individuals had clinically significant depression symptoms.

In Conclusion:

Dr. Hillman and his team say these findings highlight how important it is to screen people with depression for sleep apnea. Clinicians should question patients about sleep disruptions, breathing pauses, snoring and excessive sleepiness during the daytime, because it may benefit them to be treated with CPAP therapy for a specific period of time, rather than rushing straight to antidepressant medications.


The information provided on the is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979