There is a complex relationship between sleep and depressive illness. Depression can cause sleep problems and sleep problems can cause or contribute to depressive disorders. As dentists offering dental sleep medicine services, we can continue to be our patients’ first line of defense against sleep apnea and other conditions, such as depression.
Understanding the Connection
Sleep-disordered breathing has been linked with depression. This is especially true because insomnia is very common among depressed patients.
Depressed individuals may suffer from a range of insomnia, including:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Un-refreshing sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
However, research suggests the risk of developing depression is highest among people with both sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is also linked with depression.
One study worked to assess the quality of life (QOL) in patients with severe OSA. The results showed that QOL of patients with severe OSA was decreased compared with normal control subjects. As a result, the QOL of patients strongly correlated with depression. However, excessive daytime sleepiness score and oxygen desaturation during sleep also did affect the QOL, but the magnitude of its effect was small.1
Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Apnea
The good news is that treating OSA may improve depression. And, in many cases, because symptoms of depression often overlap with symptoms of sleep apnea, there can be a risk for misdiagnosis. By partnering with your patient’s physician, you can properly treat sleep apnea and depression.
For those who are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is important for them to be screened for sleep apnea. You can begin this screening by asking if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Breathing pauses while sleeping
- Disrupted sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
The solution is simple—offer treatment for sleep apnea or depression right away. By treating sleep apnea, you can help to not only improve your patients’ sleep, but their depression as well. Whether treatment is for depression or sleep apnea, the end result will be the same: a better night’s sleep and an improved well-being.
If you are offering dental sleep medicine services in your practice, what are you doing about depression? Gaining a better understanding of the connection between sleep apnea and depression is key to helping our patients get the best care possible. With proper treatment, we hope to not only provide relief from sleep apnea, but depression as well.
Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS, is the owner of Atlanta’s Craniofacial Pain and Dental Sleep Center of Georgia.
1. Akashiba T, Kawahara S, Akahoshi T, Omori C, Saito O, Majima T, Horie T. 2002. Relationship Between Quality of Life and Mood or Depression in Patients With Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome. Chest,122(3), 861-865. doi:10.1378/chest.122.3.861