Sleep apnea increases risk of depression in men

By / 14th of May, 2015

A long-term study has found a profound link between sleep disorders and depression in men.

The research by Dr Carol Lang at the University of Adelaide in South Australia involved more than 1800 men over a five-year period.

Dr Lang found that men with an undiagnosed sleep disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness - one of the primary symptoms of sleep apnea - were four times more likely to have depression than those without a sleep disorder. And men with a diagnosed sleep condition were twice as likely to have depression.

“Depression is a serious public health concern and a lot remains unknown about how to effectively treat it in men,” said Dr Lang, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the University of Adelaide’s Department of Medicine. “Men are less likely to seek, and more likely to drop out of, treatment for their depression and are four times more likely to die from suicide attempts than females.”

“Obstructive sleep apnea affects approximately 1 in 2 men and 1 in 5 women, but most of these, up to 82%, remain undiagnosed.

“An association between sleep apnea and depression has been noted in previous research but now we know just how strong this relationship really is in the general community,” she said.

Dr Lang said the important findings will help in the diagnosis and treatment of both conditions.

“Our study found excessive daytime sleepiness and severe obstructive sleep apnea are both associated with the prevalence and onset of depression, and the presence of both is associated with an even greater risk,” said Dr Lang.

“With the link between sleep disorders and depression being so strong, I’d encourage clinicians to investigate men with symptoms of either depression or a sleep disorder for the other problem.

“Although there haven’t yet been any studies to guide the management of sleep apnea and depression when they occur together, many smaller studies have found that continuous positive airway pressure therapy for sleep apnea can reduce depression severity in patients suffering from both conditions.

Dr Lang advised men with sleep apnea to be aware of the increased risk for depression and talk to their doctor if they have any concerns.

“It is also important that people with depressive disorders raise any concerns about their sleep with their physician because often sleep problems are assumed to simply be a result of the depression itself and not investigated,” she said.

The research was presented in May 14 at the 2015 American Thoracic Society International Conference in Colorado. 

Key contacts

Dr Carol Lang Postdoctoral Research Fellow Department of Medicine University of Adelaide
61 422 688 324 carol.lang@adelaide.edu.au