Depression and Sleep Apnoea

Many clinical studies have shown a relationship between sleep apnoea and depression.1 Some report that people with depression are five times more likely to have a breathing-related sleep disorder, like sleep apnoea.2 

While others report that 53% of people with untreated sleep apnoea feel depressed and 59% felt anxious.3  

Whatever the statistics, there is strong evidence that depression is a risk factor for sleep apnoea. 

People with sleep apnoea feel tired, irritable and lethargic. They struggle to find the motivation to exercise.  They can have problems at work and at home with concentration and memory so accomplishing tasks can be a challenge.  They fall asleep in meetings.   

They may sleep in a different room to their partner.  Often people with sleep apnoea are reluctant to go out because they know they’ll fall asleep or because they’re concerned about their weight.  All of this can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Medication prescribed for depression may contribute to the severity of sleep apnoea.  Some medications are muscle relaxants, increasing the likelihood of the muscles in the upper airway collapsing and causing an apnoea or hypopnoea.  Some medication may blunt the body’s response to the fall in oxygen and rise in carbon dioxide associated with an apnoea and hypopnoea, increasing the time and severity of the apnoea or hypopnoea.4  The effect of medication should be considered by the doctor prescribing antidepressant medication for someone with sleep apnoea.

Depression and obstructive sleep apnoea have independently been shown to be associated with metabolic syndrome (a combination of disorders increasing the risk of developing diabetes), and also with the development of cardiovascular disease. 1

Treating sleep apnoea effectively has been shown to eliminate or reduce the upper airway collapse responsible for snoring, disrupted sleep, lethargy, lack of concentration and memory loss and all the other symptoms of sleep apnoea, as well as alleviating the feelings of anxiety and depression.1


  1. Schröder C, O'Hara R. Depression and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Annals of General Psychiatry 2005, 4:13
  2. Ohayon MM: The effects of breathing-related sleep disorders on mood disturbances in the general population.
  3. J Clin Psychiatry 2003 , 64:1195-200; quiz, 1274-6
  4. Lacasse, et al, Health-related quality of life in obstructive sleep apnoea. Eur Respir J 2002; 19: 499 - 503
  5. Guilleminault, Benzodiazepines, breathing, and sleep Am J Med 1990 , 88:25S-28S.
  6. Flemons WW, Reimer MA. Development of a disease-specific health-related quality of life questionnaire for sleep apnea. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1998;158:494 - 503.