Sleep apnea, dim light at night may increase depression

Sleep maskNew research suggests the estimated 12 million Americans who have obstructive sleep apnea should sleep in a very dark room.

Scientists at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have found exposure to dim light at night can interact with sleep apnea and lead to increased levels of depression and anxiety in mice.

“Although it is unclear at the present time whether sleep apnea causes depression, both conditions are commonly seen together in patients. Our research suggests that sleeping even with a minimum amount of light may increase symptoms of depression in those with sleep apnea,” says Dr. Ulysses Magalang, director of Ohio State’s Sleep Disorders Center and a co-author of the study.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common problem, especially among smokers and people who are overweight. The disorder causes abnormal breathing while sleeping, lowers oxygen levels and is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and higher risk of stroke and heart failure. The most common signs include loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, irritability and memory problems.

Magalang offers these suggestions for improving sleep and reducing light exposure at night:

  • Use room-darkening drapes or shades on windows to block outside light from traffic, streetlights and neighboring buildings.
  • Turn off the television, computer and other electronic devices before going to sleep.
  • Choose clocks or night lights with red lighting instead of blue or green.

Results of the research were recently published online by the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology.