Scientists established a link between schizophrenia and sleep apnoea

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Sleep apnoea is a condition, characterized by irregular breathing (completely stopping to breathe or shallow breathing) during sleep. Obviously, it reduces the quality of sleep and makes patients of sleep apnoea tired and irritated. Now scientists from University of Adelaide and the Lyell McEwin Hospital found that schizophrenia patients are 3.4 times more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea too.

A simple mask provides a positive air pressure to keep airways open. Image credit: Rachel Tayse via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A simple mask provides a positive air pressure to keep airways open. Image credit: Rachel Tayse via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

This is the first study in the world to prove a link between schizophrenia and obstructive sleep apnoea, although many patients with schizophrenia have reported breathing difficulties while sleeping before. It is just another addition to a long list of health problems people with schizophrenia usually suffer from – diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. On average they live 17-20 years shorter than people without this condition. This is very important, because sleep apnoea is associated with heart disease, depression and poor memory, which means that it can be the cause of many illnesses that schizophrenia patients suffer from, but no one thought of it until now.

Scientists conducted home sleep studies on 32 patients with schizophrenia. After establishing that sleep apnoea is more common between these people, scientists now will try combatting the condition. For an experiment they used a mild air pressure to keep the airways open. It is a common procedure, but it has never been tried for people with schizophrenia. So far, all six patients who received the treatment showed an improvement.

This treatment gave some surprising results too. Hannah Myles, one of the authors of the study, said: “The most exciting and unexpected result was that after six months of treatment, participants lost on average 13.6 kilograms. This provides hope that continuous positive airway pressure may be a new way to help treat the physical health of people with schizophrenia”.

Scientists were not sure if it will be possible to use such treatment at all, because schizophrenia may not tolerate it. However, scientists found that these people do accept the diagnostic methods and the treatment with mild air pressure. Such treatment is fairly common for sleep apnoea, but scientists will have to continue their research to see how effective it is for schizophrenia patients.