The Link Between Insomnia and Sleep Apnea

Dr. Craig Hudson, MD | June 29, 2017

Is there a connection between insomnia and sleep apnea?

In short, yes.

There are a number of health issues that can result from untreated sleep apnea. Insomnia is just one of many, and it may be the least worrisome complication of all.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is what we call an “obstructive sleep disorder.” It is a very dangerous sleep disorder where sufferers experience airway blockages or obstructions while they sleep. Sadly, sleep apnea is also very common. Around 9% of women and a staggering 24% of men are affected. The medical community believes the rise of obesity is a contributing factor to the prevalence of sleep apnea.

The obstruction in breathing is usually caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing temporarily, which shrinks the airway and restricts breathing. The shrunken airway triggers a vibration of the tissue in the back of the throat causing snoring, another common symptom of sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

The most alarming risk factor researchers have connected to sleep apnea is death caused by cardiac arrest. High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, fatigue, sleep deprivation and depression are a few other health concerns sufferers of sleep apnea can experience. These issues are caused by the repeated restriction of oxygen.

How Does Insomnia Fit Into This?

Sleep apnea’s connection to insomnia has prompted researchers to urge physicians to look for signs of both disorders in patients who appear to present with the symptoms of just one or the other.  What is the most common symptom of a blocked airway? Choking. This is exactly what happens when you have sleep apnea. The collapsing tissue in the airways leads to suffocation and choking.

Many people with sleep apnea report frequently being woken up in the middle of the night as a result of choking. Those with moderate or light sleep apnea might experience one or two choking episodes per night, while those with severe sleep apnea might experience over 50 apnea episodes.

The sound generated by snoring can also interrupt sleep. This is usually an issue that affects other people in the house, but some people with sleep apnea do experience sleep interruptions caused by their own snoring.

If you suspect sleep apnea is disrupting your sleep, please contact your family doctor. Symptoms like waking up feeling tired or with a dry mouth could be signs of sleep apnea.