A Pill for Sleep Apnea?

The antidepressant mirtazapine showed promising results for the common sleep disorder.

By PT Staff, published on June 5, 2003 - last reviewed on June 10, 2008

A medication used to treat depression may help those with sleep
apnea get a better night's rest. A small research trial conducted with
the drug mirtazapine showed promising results for the common sleep
disorder. It is the most effective chemical treatment found so far for
the condition.

The patients who took mirtazapine slept significantly better than
those in the control group, according to researchers. The number of times
breathing slowed or stopped was cut in half on average. And the number of
sleep disturbances decreased by 28 percent. Overall, the 12 participants
showed improvement in sleeping patterns. Mirtazapine works by regulating
the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical that is known to affect mood,
appetite and sleep.

The study was sponsored by NV Oranon, which sells mirtazapine under the name Remeron. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved mirtazapine for sleep apnea, which would require larger studies.

About 18 million people have sleep apnea, according to the National
Institutes of Health. It occurs when the throat and tongue muscles relax
and block the airway while a person is sleeping, sometimes waking the
person hundreds of times throughout the night. Without treatment, those
with the condition are at greater risk for high blood pressure, heart
attack and stroke. Established treatments for sleep apnea include facial
surgery or a pressurized nasal mask.