Can Sleep Apnea Cause Waking Up Shaking?

As happens with other sleep-related disorders, people affected by sleep apnea can experience many different symptoms, which may vary from person to person. 

Some of the symptoms can cause a great deal of concern, especially if you don’t know for sure whether they’re caused by sleep apnea or by another condition. 

Waking up shaking is one of those concerning symptoms.

In this article, we will look at the evidence about tremors and their connection to sleep apnea.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea

First, let’s look at some of the most typical symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, the most common form of sleep apnea. These include:

  • Loud snoring, especially if accompanied by pauses in breathing. 
  • Gasping, choking or snorting in your sleep. 
  • Waking up with a headache or why a dry mouth. 
  • Excessive daytime fatigue. 
  • A decrease in energy and in your ability to concentrate. 
  • Irritability or mood swings. 
  • Restless sleep. 

Let’s look more in detail at the last symptom, since it’s related to the topic of this blog post.

Restless sleep and obstructive sleep apnea

Restless sleep is a bit of a tricky symptom, as you may or may not be aware of it. Some people toss and turn constantly in their sleep, and they do it unknowingly. Sometimes, the habit isn’t brought to light until a partner notices and mentions it. 

In other cases, you may wake up in the middle of the night and feel agitated -- or notice that your bedsheets always end up in a messy pile. Restless sleep can also evidence itself as talking in your sleep, kicking, jerking, thrashing about, or tremors in arms and legs.

Obstructive sleep apnea could be causing restless sleep, because this disorder interferes with a person’s ability to breathe normally. This also affects the normal oxygen supply to the brain and body -- and when this happens, the muscles in arms and legs can get inconsistent messages that lead to jerking or shaking.

Researchers have found a connection between OSA and some forms of disturbed sleep, such as Restless Leg Syndrome. These two conditions tend to appear together, even though the exact way in which they influence each other isn’t yet known.

Tremors in your sleep: why is this happening?

Sleep specialists have studied for a while what’s described as essential tremors. These are involuntary movements like spasms or shaking, that mostly affect the muscles in the upper body (arms, hands, chest, or head).

Specialists have now reached the conclusion that essential tremors do appear in some OSA patients, but they’re not always a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. In other words, tremors are not the only sign that can confirm an OSA diagnosis.

Several studies confirm that there could be other reasons why you experience tremors in your sleep, or wake up shaking. For example, researchers have found a connection between sleep disorders, tremors, and Parkinson's disease, as these conditions can coexist. 

From what we know so far, it seems that people affected by Parkinson's are more likely to also have OSA. This means you shouldn’t automatically attribute this symptom to Parkinson's disease without having an official diagnosis.

Here’s a list of other things that we know about tremors and sleep disorders:

  • Essential tremors can cause some changes to the brain, which in turn can cause depressive symptoms or cognitive problems that lead to sleep disorders. 
  • People who experience tremors tend to have a lower tolerance to caffeine, a substance associated with severe OSA. 
  • People affected by essential tremors are more likely to have their sleep disrupted by medication. 

Final thoughts

If you wake up shaking often, it’s important you get a professional diagnosis before assuming it’s OSA or another serious health condition. Once your physician is certain about the root cause of the problem, they will recommend the best treatment.

If you get diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea after consulting a doctor about shaking and other symptoms, you should know that CPAP therapy is the gold standard in OSA treatment. You can learn more about this treatment here, or get personalized advice from a specialist to ensure you get the peaceful and restoring sleep that your body needs to feel energized and be healthy.