Sleep apnea and insomnia are conditions that impact the lives of millions of people. Sleep is regularly disrupted, causing fatigue and lost productivity at work -- as well as increased risk of accidents.
Many people who suffer from insomnia don’t even realize they might have actually have sleep apnea. This medical condition can lead to potentially serious medical conditions such as depression, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Let’s examine the causes and symptoms of each to appreciate their differences -- so you can get the treatment you need.
What Causes Insomnia?
One reason it’s tricky to effectively treat insomnia is the multiple causes. A handful of medical reasons include:
- Nasal or sinus allergies
- Back pain
- Certain neurological conditions
- Sleep apnea
However, there can be other times when insomnia is related to emotional states such as anxiety, depression or preoccupation over work-related issues. There may likewise be incidents when a combination of medical and psychological variables are present together.
The Roots of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Because sleep apnea can cause insomnia, it can be difficult to determine what’s going on. However, the physical roots of these conditions could not be more different.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a narrowing of the airways in the throat -- which makes it harder to breathe during the night. This cause snoring, waking up gasping for breath, and feeling tired throughout the day.
One of the most common causes of sleep apnea in adults is obesity, although non-obese people can develop OSA. An obese person will often have a relatively large neck, which puts pressure on airways causing the breathing problems.
A Difference in the Symptoms Themselves
The symptoms of each disorder are quite different.
Insomnia: Classic signs include an inability to fall or remain asleep throughout the night. Of course, the individual will also be tired throughout the day. This may lead to "cat naps,” making another bout of insomnia more likely to occur during the following evening.
Sleep Apnea: As we mentioned previously, the symptoms associated with sleep apnea are entirely physical in nature. These are solely caused by a narrowing of the airways.
The person may be sleeping during the night, but will awake multiple times because their body is not receiving the required amount of oxygen. Some people wake up hundreds of times during the night, but are not aware it’s happening. All those little pauses in breathing deprive the body of restorative oxygen and sleep.
Diagnosing the problem
While the symptoms can point to either insomnia or OSA, a sleep study is required to diagnose OSA. This is a test that can be conducted at home, wearing monitors to determine oxygen levels and other metrics during sleep. This at-home test has been found to be highly accurate in diagnosing OSA.
How Can Each Condition be Treated?
Insomnia: Drugs such as mild sedatives may be prescribed to help the patient fall and remain asleep. However, lifestyle changes are often just as effective. Some examples include:
- Cutting back or entirely eliminating caffeine.
- Avoiding light from tablets, phones, and televisions before falling asleep (this light stimulates the brain).
- Cutting back on sugar in the diet.
- Exercising daily.
- Getting help in coping with stress and anxiety.
- Not taking any naps throughout the day.
Multiple lifestyle changes may be necessary to get a good night’s sleep every night -- but it is possible.
Sleep Apnea: If you have mild sleep apnea, these lifestyle changes are also helpful. But if your sleep apnea is more serious, you will need additional therapy.
The most effective treatment for OSA involves a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. This device consists of a compressor and a mask which fits snugly over the nose and mouth.
As the title suggests, a CPAP machine will provide an increased amount of pressure into your airways during the overnight hours. This helps to prevent them from narrowing, eliminating any breathing problems.
Specific lifestyle changes can also help, such as quitting smoking and losing weight. Once again, these and other suggestions will be determined by a trained medical professional.
Why Might Both of These Conditions Go Untreated?
Many insomniacs believe that their condition is "temporary" or "all in their head". Thus, they are less likely to receive treatment until more severe symptoms arise.
There are also times when those suffering from insomnia are simply unaware that the root cause is sleep apnea -- entirely misidentifying the problem. This is why it is absolutely essential to seek the advice of a medical professional in order to obtain a proper diagnosis as soon as possible.
What to Do if You Suspect You are Suffering from Sleep Apnea
One of the best ways to obtain the proper treatment is to first take an at-home sleep test. The results from this examination will then be interpreted by trained professionals; enabling you to determine the root of the problem.
Either way, both insomnia and sleep apnea are conditions that need to be taken seriously if you hope to avoid potentially serious health issues in the future.
Learn more about SleepQuest’s at-home sleep test. It’s the first step toward a good night’s sleep