While some of us easily fall asleep the moment we lie down in bed, it’s a struggle for others. sleeplessness is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. However, a lot of people don’t know if they are dealing with sleep apnea or insomnia which are the most common disorders that are associated with lack of sleep. But comparing sleep apnea vs insomnia, there is a significant difference. Understanding them will make it possible for you to effectively manage your sleep/wake cycle.
What is Sleep Apnea?
It’s a condition that’s characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. The affected person will stop breathing several times during their sleep and this can be hundreds of times in just one night. There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: it’s the most common and normally features repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the upper airway during sleep. An episode of obstructive sleep apnea will overwork the chest muscles and diaphragm, leading to an increase in pressure that will force the airway to open. Breathing normally will only resume after a body jerk or a loud gasp.
- Central sleep apnea: occurs due to the instability in the respiratory system’s control center. This is a result of failure by the brain to signal the muscles to effectively breathe.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The affected individual may not easily recognize the first symptoms of sleep apnea unless they have a bed partner. But the most common signs include:
- Night sweats
- Sexual dysfunction
- Anxiety and depression
- Sore throat/Dry mouth after sleeping
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
- Frequent urination at night
- Sudden awakenings characterized by choking or gasping
- Cognitive impairment e.g., forgetfulness, irritability, and loss of focus.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
There is a wide range of factors that can act as risk factors and they include:
- Obesity or excess weight: it’s one of the biggest risk factors due to the high amount of fat deposits around the upper airway. This can easily interfere with your normal breathing, especially when you are sleeping.
- A narrowed airway: in case you have inherited a narrow throat or you have tonsils that can block the airway, then chances are you could develop obstructive sleep apnea. If you also have a family history of this condition, then you are at high risk.
- Old age: older people experience sleep apnea frequently more than children.
- Gender: this condition is 2-3X more likely to affect men than women.
- Underlying medical conditions: those with high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes are at high risk.
- Smoking: increases the amount of fluid retention and inflammation in the upper airway.
What is Insomnia?
It simply means recurring sleeplessness. Insomnia makes it hard for you to fall and stay asleep. It can be short-term i.e., acute or long-term i.e., chronic. It should be noted that those who experience occasional sleeplessness shouldn’t confuse this with insomnia. You need to at least experience 3 nights of sleeplessness per work and consistently for up to 3 months.
Symptoms of Insomnia
Those suffering from this common sleep disorder may end up displaying the following symptoms:
Difficulty falling and staying asleep throughout the night
- Waking up frequently in the middle of the night
- Waking up very early
- Ongoing worries about sleeplessness
- Anxiety, stress, depression, and irritability
- Daytime fatigue
- Increased accidents or errors
- Loss of focus and memory loss
Causes of Insomnia
There are many potential causes of this sleep issue and in most cases, multiple factors are usually involved. The worst thing is that insomnia can trigger or even worsen pre-existing health conditions. This eventually leads to a complex chain featuring several cause & effect factors. Common causes include:
- Jet lag
- Taking nicotine
- Excess caffeine and alcohol intake
- Doing shift work
- Stress, anxiety, and depression
- Uncomfortable beds
- Gastroesophageal reflux and thyroid issues
- An extremely hot or cold sleeping environment
- Physical illness and pain such as diabetes, arthritis, and endometriosis
- Neurological problems featuring Alzheimer’s diseases and dementia
Sleep Apnea vs Insomnia: What’s the Connection
From the above overview, it’s clear that these are medically different conditions. However, they both occur in high percentages and may affect one person simultaneously. Medical research studies indicate that 50-60% of people who have been diagnosed with insomnia end up with sleep apnea as well and vice-versa.
For instance, sleep apnea can result in insomnia by changing the brain’s activity and interfering with the normal sleep/wake cycle. Those with sleep apnea may also end up stressing about falling asleep to avoid experiencing cessation of breathing while they are asleep. In this case, they will end up with insomnia in the long run.
On the other hand, most people suffering from insomnia usually end up with undiagnosed sleep apnea and they end up waking multiple times every night.
But knowing the difference is important in helping you handle these two conditions whether they occur separately or simultaneously. With insomnia, you will end up experiencing difficulty sleeping. Meanwhile, you will end up displaying symptoms such as choking, loud snoring, and gasping tendencies while asleep if you have apnea. You can also end up with both.
However, you can effectively manage your life to reduce the severity of these conditions. Avoid stress and anxiety-inducing activities. Make sure that you have a comfortable room to sleep in, eat a healthy diet, avoid alcohol/smoking, and ensure that you work out regularly. Besides that, keep your phone and other sources of blue light far away from your bed.
While sleep apnea and insomnia are the most common causes of sleeplessness, they are quite different and display different symptoms. their treatment isn’t easy as well since there is no direct cure for either. A doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure therapy for sleep apnea while cognitive behavioral therapy may be ideal for insomnia. But regardless of the available treatment option, you must consider changing your lifestyle if you are to manage these two conditions. Go for therapy, use the recommended medications, attain your weight loss goals, have a healthy diet, and implement a good sleeping routine.