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Volume 14 No. 09
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Accepted Papers

Scientific Investigations

Respiratory-Related Leg Movements of Sleep Are Associated With Serotonergic Antidepressants But Not Bupropion

Catherine A. McCall, MD1; John W. Winkelman, MD, PhD2
1University of Washington Sleep Medicine Center, Seattle, Washington; 2Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

Study Objectives:

Respiratory-related leg movements (RRLMs) may contribute to the cardiovascular risk associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), but not bupropion, increase periodic leg movements in sleep. This study examines whether patients with OSA using SSRIs have more RRLMs than those taking bupropion or no antidepressant.


Patients with an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) of at least 10 events/h during a full-night diagnostic study or split-night study, who were taking bupropion (n = 32), an SSRI (n = 31), or no antidepressant (n = 31), were selected from a database of prestudy questionnaires. RRLMs were scored according to World Association of Sleep Medicine 2016 standards.


Patients using SSRIs had significantly greater overall RRLM% (defined as the percentage of respiratory events associated with a leg movement, including apneas, hypopneas, and respiratory effort-related arousals), RRLM index, and periodic limb movement index relative to patients using bupropion and control patients. The difference between the RRLM% in the SSRI and bupropion groups was limited to patients undergoing split-night studies, and that of the SSRI and control groups was limited to patients undergoing full-night diagnostic studies.


The greater number of RRLMs and PLMs in the SSRI group may contribute to treatment-emergent insomnia often seen with SSRI use. Fragmented sleep and elevated autonomic nervous system activation associated with increased RRLMs in patients with OSA taking SSRIs might also limit the tolerability of antidepressant treatment, as well as increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.


McCall CA, Winkelman JW. Respiratory-related leg movements of sleep are associated with serotonergic antidepressants but not bupropion. J Clin Sleep Med. 2018;14(9):1569–1576.

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