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David Baxter

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Apnea Treatment Alleviates Depression
Thursday, November 01, 2007

Last week, we wrote about the way that sleep-deprivation can destabilize emotional control. Subjects prevented from sleeping exhibited more extreme amygdala activation when presented with frightening pictures. Building on this fMRI finding, researchers from the Sleep Center at University Community Hospital in Tampa demonstrated that the treatment of a sleep disorder can ameliorate symptoms of depression.

The Tampa researchers focused on sleep apnea, a respiratory disturbance that impairs breathing in thousands of unsuspecting sufferers, causing them to wake frequently during the night for periods of time too small to remember but disruptive enough to significantly decrease the quality of sleep. Patients involved in an apnea study were evaluated on the Beck Depression Inventory and treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask. While the CPAP mask is uncomfortable and loud, sufferers of sleep apnea may be persuaded to try it by these findings: those whose sleep apnea responded to treatment showed a significant improvement in depression symptoms as well. This follows up on a 2003 Stanford study that revealed that depressed people are five times more likely to have breathing-related sleep disorders.

Now that we know that sleep disorder treatment can improve emotional imbalances, we need to adopt better methods of assessing sleep disturbances. The traditional method for detection is entry into a sleep clinic for at least one night and/or the attachment of a pressure or heat sensor to the mouth and nose. This is suboptimal because patients may not sleep normally in the strange new environment of the clinic, and even if they do manage to snooze normally with an apparatus attached to them, the quality of their sleep will be compromised. Fortunately, research recently presented to the American College of Chest Physicians demonstrates that non-invasive methods of detection can be very accurate. An experiment led by Dr. Jayasimha Murthy found that remote infrared imaging cameras, placed 6-8 feet from a subjects head, detected 20 disturbance events whereas pressure sensors only detected 19 events and the thermistor 22 events. This impressive showing is strong evidence that remote sensors are preferable to invasive methods.

All of this exciting new research means that you should listen carefully if your partner complains that you snore or toss and turn all night. Tests for sleep apnea are now much more convenient, and the available treatments can make you and your loved ones much happier.
 

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