Having sleep apnea may be associated with major depression, a new study suggests.

Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which a person has short pauses in breathing during sleep, may be connected to depressive symptoms. 

Caused by a temporary collapse of the airway, these breathing stops can last 10 to 30 seconds, and may occur dozens or hundreds of times each night.

Risk factors include:

  • Advancing age.
  • Being male.
  • Being obese.

"Snorting, gasping or stopping breathing while asleep was associated with nearly all depression symptoms, including feeling hopeless and feeling like a failure," Anne Wheaton, lead author of the study, said in a release. "We expected persons with sleep-disordered breathing to report trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, or feeling tired and having little energy, but not the other symptoms."

The study of 9,714 adults from across the U.S. was conducted between 2005 and 2008.

It is in the April issue of the Journal Sleep.

The study found that in men:

  • 6 per cent had been diagnosed by a doctor as having sleep apnea.
  • 37.2 per cent snored more than five nights a week.
  • 7.1 per cent snorted or stopped breathing more than five nights a week.
  • 5 per cent had high scores on a depression checklist.

In women:

  • 3.1 per cent reported they had sleep apnea.
  • 22.4 per cent snored more than five days a week.
  • 4.3 per cent snorted or stopped breathing more than five nights a week.
  • 8.4 per cent had a high score on a depression checklist.

The researchers found that although sleep apnea was associated with probable major depression, as was snorting/stopping breathing, snoring was not associated with depression in either gender. The symptoms were self-reported by patients.

The study’s authors suggest that physicians screen patients for sleep apnea, such as asking if they have "sleep-disordered breathing symptoms," if they complain of depressive symptoms.

"Additional intervention research is needed to determine whether treatment of sleep disordered breathing among depressed patients will reduce the need for antidepressant medication and improve outcomes."