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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 01:40 GMT
Sleep disorder linked to depression
Patients' lives are affected by sleep problems
Sleep problems have an impact on patients' waking lives
Sleep apnoea, in which breathing is disrupted during sleep, can have significant effects on mental as well as physical health, a study has suggested.

Researchers from Quebec, Canada have, for the first time, examined how the condition affects psychological health.

They say the disrupted sleep of sufferers can result in problems at work, in relationships and in social lives, which can lead to depression.

It is estimated that up to a quarter of people suffer sleep apnoea, with their breathing stopping briefly at least five times an hour.

It was a surprise for us to find such a large number of depressed patients in our group

Profesor Yves Lacasse, Laval University, Quebec
If interruptions occur more than 10 times an hour, it is known as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

This only affects around 4% of the population, but is thought to increase the risk of fatal heart attacks or strokes.


Researchers from the Center for Pneumologie at Laval University, Quebec, headed by Professor Yves Lacasse, spent two years looking at how patients were affected by sleep apnoea.

They used a new measuring scale, based on those used to look at quality of life for patients with asthma or chronic bronchitis, to assess 83 patients, with an average age of 51, with OSA.

Over two thirds reported feeling impatient, 59%  felt anxious and 53% admitted to feeling depressed.

Seventy-seven per cent experienced excessive fatigue during the day, which affected their emotional wellbeing.

Doctors were surprised to see that only 48% reported morning headaches, thought to be commonly experienced by OSA sufferers.

Three quarters said they worried about their weight.

Surprising findings

Professor Lacasse told BBC News Online: "It was a surprise for us to find such a large number of depressed patients in our group.

"I don't think that from our study, you could say sleep apnoea causes depression. It's probably a risk factor, but I would not go as far as saying it's a cause."

He added: "It's not only a matter of sleep, or not sleep.

"Patients are always tired, they have problems at work, problems with their spouse, they don't go out because they know that they will fall asleep, they are even reluctant to go out with friends."

The research team are now working on a simple questionnaire can be used to measure how sleep apnoea affects quality of life.

John Stradling, professor of respiratory medicine at the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, told BBC News Online said the Quebec findings fitted in with what he had suspected about sleep apnoea's links with psychological illness.

He said: "This study adds to the information about the ways in which sleep apnoea is a devastating thing to have."

See also:

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04 Jan 01 | Health
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03 Nov 99 | Health
'Snoring spoils sex lives'
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