Insomnia vs. sleep apnea

Sleep apnea and insomnia are very common sleep disorders and they can be connected. That is why it is important to know a few things about them, similarities and differences.
Insomnia vs. sleep apnea
Viktor Simunović, Dr.med.
Dr.med. Viktor Simunović
09 January 2024.

While the quiet of night brings rest and rejuvenation for many, for others, it's a time of tossing and turning or battling unseen breathing interruptions.

Though often confused or interlinked, these two sleep disorders are distinct in their causes, symptoms, and impacts on our health. Insomnia, the thief of sleep, leaves its victims longing for rest. Sleep apnea, a stealthy intruder, disrupts the essential rhythm of breathing.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep or cause you to wake up too early and not get back to sleep. People with insomnia often still feel tired when they wake up.

Insomnia can be caused by stress, travel or work schedules, poor sleep habits, medications, mental disorders, medical conditions, and many other factors.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a severe sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Thistype of apnea occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively during sleep, causing a temporary airway blockage.

The other primary type is central sleep apnea, where the brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Additionally, some people have complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apneas.

What is the difference between insomnia and sleep apnea?

The main difference between insomnia and sleep apnea is that insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. In contrast, sleep apnea is a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, often leading to disrupted sleep.

Insomnia leads to less sleep and poor sleep quality, while sleep apnea causes fragmented sleep due to repeated waking to resume breathing.

Is there a connection between sleep apnea and insomnia?

Yes, there is a connection between sleep apnea and insomnia. You can have insomnia and sleep apnea at the same time.

Sleep apnea can cause insomnia due to frequent awakenings from disrupted breathing, while the poor sleep quality caused by sleep apnea can exacerbate insomnia symptoms.

Insomnia symptoms are 40% - 60% more common in people with sleep apnea.

Vice versa is also true. Insomnia can cause sleep apnea. Sleep deprivation from insomnia may reduce upper-airway muscle tone or oxygen saturation.

Which of these conditions is worse?

Insomnia is a much more common condition that can seriously affect the quality of life and daily functioning. Sleep apnea is more strongly associated with severe health conditions like cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, and arrhythmias. It can also worsen diabetes and increase the risk of heart attack.

In any case, if you feel any of these symptoms, please book a consultation with your doctor. Various treatments can help depending on the severity of the condition.

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