How Does Sleep Apnea Cause Depression?

Sleep apnea usually causes depression as a result of not getting quality sleep.

Do you ever wake up feeling exhausted, even after sleeping for a significant amount of time? Or are you facing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? If so, you may be suffering from sleep apnea – a serious sleep disorder that can cause prolonged fatigue and mood disturbances.

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. This can cause fragmented and poor-quality sleep as well as deprives your body of oxygen. As with many other medical problems, people with sleep apnea often feel overwhelmed by the physical and psychological impact it has on their lives. Research suggests that over 70% of patients treated for sleep apnea report improved mood symptoms and depression scores following treatment of their condition.

Sleep apnea is not only responsible for poor quality sleep but also linked to depression in many ways. While novel treatments may help diminish the symptoms, further research is needed to fully understand how this condition contributes to depressive disorders. In this article we will be looking into how worsening symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to depression in those affected by the condition.

How does sleep apnea cause depression?

Sleep apnea can cause depression through a few different pathways.

  • sleep quality – sleep apnea can interfere with sleep quality leading to fatigue and exhaustion. This can create an overall feeling of helplessness, which can contribute to feelings of depression and difficulty concentrating or completing daily tasks.
  • oxygen deprivation – caused by sleep apnea has been linked to changes in the brain chemistry that are associated with depression.
  • anxiety – fear of not being able to breathe during sleep is often a contributing factor in depression due to the anxiety this causes.

As a result of these combined pathways, it is no surprise that sleep apnea has been linked to increased risk for developing depressive symptoms and disorders.

Can depression cause sleep apnea?

There is no evidence that depression can cause sleep apnea. Though, there is a strong connection between sleep-related disorders and mental health conditions, notably between insomnia and depression/anxiety.

It’s estimated that people with insomnia are up to seven times more likely to experience depression or anxiety, while 75% of those with depression have trouble sleeping. What is still not yet known, however, is whether having obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes depression or if the depression then leads to OSA.

The likeliest explanation for the insomnia connection is that both conditions cause each other; in other words, they work symbiotically. This can occur because feeling sadness, hopelessness and worry promotes sleeplessness since these feelings make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Consequently, not getting enough ample rest time can cause further distress that may evolve into a type of disordered thinking which may contribute to clinical depression in many individuals.

Thus an unhealthy cycle begins whereby lack of sufficient sleep perpetuates feelings of hopelessness and despair that can feed into even worse insomnia symptoms which can perpetuate more negative moods again.

What symptoms do depression and sleep apnea have?

Sleep apnea and depression can both be difficult to diagnose due to the overlapping of their symptoms. People suffering from either condition can experience daytime sleepiness, memory loss, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings. These similar symptoms can make it difficult to determine which disorder is causing the symptom.

It is important to note that in addition to these similarities, there exists a few distinctive symptoms for each disorder. In regard to sleep apnea, signs such as loud snoring and gasping, coughing, or choking for air during sleep may suggest the possibility of this condition.

On the other hand, depression typically presents more psychological symptoms such as feelings of guilt or worthlessness, decreased energy or motivation, absence of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in weight or appetite as well as suicidal idealization.

It is best to consult a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment plan due to complexity of these co-occurring disorders.

How does sleep apnea affect mental health?

Sleep apnea has been increasingly linked to mental health problems. Studies have found that people with the sleep disorder are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those without the condition.

A 2014 study in The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences was one of many to find a correlation between sleep apnea and depression, where over 46% of individuals with OSA experienced symptoms of depression compared to 53% who also experienced anxiety. In addition, those with more severe cases of sleep apnea were at greater risk for co-occurring mental health symptoms.

The 2017 study suggested undiagnosed severe sleep apnea could be linked to depressive symptoms. To combat this, screenings for both OSA and mental health issues should be conducted on anyone experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness or other associated symptoms.

People should be aware that lack of adequate rest due to sleep apnea can have serious consequences on not only physical functioning but their mental health as well. Treating sleep apnea, like with CPAP, is an important first step in managing disorders like depression that may be brought on by disordered breathing during sleep.

How to treat sleep apnea and depression?

If you suffer from both major depressive disorder (MDD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), it is vital to seek out treatment for both conditions. The only way to properly manage your depression-linked sleep apnea and minimize its physical, mental, and emotional effects is through a multifaceted approach.

The initial step should be lifestyle changes that help reduce episodes of OSA. These include sleeping on your side or stomach rather than on your back, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills close to bedtime, exercising regularly, and making healthier dietary choices.

Cognitive behavioral therapy may also help by teaching mindfulness strategies that focus on reducing and managing stress levels more effectively. Although this won’t directly target the physical symptoms of OSA, it helps indirectly by improving sleep quality in general and reducing anxiety related to the condition.

Additionally, taking certain medications prescribed by a doctor can provide effective treatment for both MDD and OSA. Both antidepressant medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as well as drugs specifically intended to treat sleep apnea will usually require regular follow up visits with your healthcare provider so they can monitor the effectiveness of your medication regimen.

Through a combination of these treatments, it is possible to significantly reduce the effects of both conditions and improve your overall quality of life.


Sleep apnea is a common medical condition that causes disruptions to breathing while sleeping. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked during asleep, resulting in pauses in breathing and decreased oxygen levels. OSA can have serious health consequences if left untreated, including an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes. For many people with OSA, symptoms of depression are also present. Evidence suggests there may be a mutual relationship between the two conditions, but the specific cause and effect remains unclear.

It’s important to treat both your OSA and depression if you have both conditions. Using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can help reduce symptoms of sleep apnea, while medications or talk therapy can help with treating depression or anxiety. Other lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise, participating in hobbies and activities you enjoy, and practicing relaxation techniques can also help improve both conditions. Taking steps to address both will improve your overall quality of life and well-being.