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sleep apnea and insomnia patient

Will Sleep Apnea Cause Insomnia?

Everyone has trouble sleeping at some point in their life. A late-afternoon latte, an overly indulgent dinner or nerves about an upcoming work milestone can keep you up into the wee hours of the night. The next day may not be one of your best –- you might be irritable, exhausted and unfocused — but the disturbance is temporary. A good night’s rest will have you feeling re-energized and refreshed.

But with a sleep disorder, this experience can become the norm. Sleep often eludes you, and when it finally comes, it may not be restful. Sleep apnea and insomnia are two of the most common disorders that prevent you from getting the sleep you deserve.

There is a notable correlation between these two conditions. Understanding their relationship is key to effective diagnosis and treatment and the first step toward taking control of your sleep.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common and serious disorder that causes you to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep. A temporary pause in breathing may happen a few times a night or, in more severe cases, hundreds of times a night. Sleep apnea can affect people of all lifestyles, genders, body types and ages, including children.

There are two kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). OSA involves the temporary relaxation of tissues in the back of your throat during sleep. This relaxation narrows or closes your airway, limiting the amount of air that can travel in and out of your lungs. You may snore loudly or make gasping sounds as you attempt to breathe. Eventually, your brain and body become oxygen deprived and you may wake up as the airway muscles reopen.

Central sleep apnea is much less common than OSA. CSA occurs when your brain doesn’t send the appropriate signals to the muscles that control your breathing. This type of sleep apnea most often occurs in association with CPAP therapy for OSA, a condition known as complex sleep apnea syndrome.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Symptoms of sleep apnea may include:

  • Loud or frequent snoring
  • Awakening with shortness of breath
  • Choking or gasping in your sleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Daytime fatigue or drowsiness
  • Irritability, depression or mood swings
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Frequent need to urinate during the night

What Is Insomnia?

You toss. You turn. No matter how many times you shift position, sleep is still at least one more minute away. That’s insomnia — recurring sleeplessness that may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).

Acute insomnia often arises due to day-to-day stresses, depression or a traumatic event. It can also be caused by external circumstances like jet lag or overconsumption of alcohol or caffeine. Often, acute insomnia resolves without treatment.

Chronic insomnia occurs when sleeplessness lasts two nights a week or more for longer than one month. Long-term disrupted sleep is linked to a variety of lifestyle habits, medical conditions and genetic predisposition. If you have chronic insomnia, it may not go away on its own. A sleep specialist can help you gain better control over your sleep schedule.

What Are the Symptoms of Insomnia?

Symptoms of insomnia may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset) no matter how tired you are
  • Difficulty staying asleep (sleep maintenance) during the night
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Low energy levels
  • Mood disturbance
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

So, How Are Sleep Apnea and Insomnia Related? Can One Cause the Other?

Now that we understand what sleep apnea and insomnia are, let’s explore how they’re linked.

Sleep disorders often raise the classic chicken and egg question. Does insomnia cause sleep apnea? Does sleep apnea cause insomnia? Does it matter which came first?

While insomnia and sleep apnea are two separate disorders, there is a high percentage of cases in which both occur simultaneously. Many people who are diagnosed with one of the conditions are later diagnosed with the other condition as well. For a majority of patients with both disorders, insomnia is a symptom of sleep apnea — or, to put it another way, the obstructed breathing of sleep apnea is a cause of the sleeplessness of insomnia.

This may not be the causal relationship in all cases, but one thing is clear: if you know you’re struggling with one of these conditions, there’s a chance you may develop or already have the other. If you’re an insomniac who wakes during the night, ask a sleep medicine specialist to rule out sleep apnea as a possible cause. And if you’re an apnea patient who is still struggling to get restful sleep, talk to your doctor about measures to treat the underlying insomnia.

Why Professional Treatment Matters — And Why You Should Do It ASAP

It’s not uncommon for sleep apnea and insomnia to be misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed because their symptoms are similar. Effective treatment of coexisting insomnia and sleep apnea can also be challenging. Consult with a board-certified sleep medicine physician as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. Untreated sleep disorders can have serious physical and mental health consequences.

Without appropriate treatment, sleep apnea and insomnia can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. Poor sleep is also linked to mood swings, depression, anxiety, the inability to concentrate, poor memory and unsatisfactory work performance. Too many people don’t seek a diagnosis for sleep issues because they mistakenly believe it’s normal or something they can handle on their own.

A Better Night’s Sleep Starts Here

If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea or insomnia, or both conditions, contact the sleep specialists at Sound Sleep Health about your concerns. Our team has more than 50 collective years of experience helping people in the Seattle region regain their vitality, energy, happiness, health and quality of life. We have curated the most effective sleep solutions and will work with you to discover the best approach for your individual needs. Get in touch at 425-636- 2400 or request an appointment today.

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