PTSD and Sleep Apnea Are Often Found Together

Learn About Sleep Apnea and What To Do About It

PTSD and sleep apnea are often found together. In fact, sleep apnea is one of the most common symptoms found in individuals who suffer from the anxiety disorder PTSD ( post traumatic stress disorder ). Difficulty falling or remaining asleep is one of the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD, so it makes sense that those with PTSD would also have sleep apnea.

A recent study was conducted using 135 young, healthy U.S. combat veterans who had PTSD. The study found that 98.5% of these veterans had sleep problems of one kind or another. An amazing 54% of them suffered from PTSD and sleep apnea. This figure is much, much higher than the rate of sleep apnea among the general population, which is only 20%.

What is Sleep Apnea?

I can speak from experience here because I suffer from sleep apnea and have felt its effects first-hand.

Basically, sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where you may experience one or more brief (a few seconds up to a few minutes) pauses in your breathing while you are sleeping. Instead of pausing, some people will experience shallow breathing.

Even though these pauses in breathing can be very brief, they can occur many times during sleep.

What happens is that even though you aren’t aware of it, you wake up for a very short time in order to resume normal breathing.

This cycle repeats itself over and over all night long. You wake up feeling tired and worn out.

I used to wake up feeling more tired than when I went to bed. I was sleepy all day and sometimes had trouble staying awake. I have friends who have sleep apnea who have fallen asleep while driving their car; fortunately, they were able to wake up without having an accident.

A lot of people have sleep apnea and don’t even know it. If you have PTSD, you should get checked for sleep apnea since PTSD and sleep apnea are commonly seen together.

The test is easy and usually involves a sleep study done in a sleep lab.

Treatment is easy, too.

Typically, you’ll be given a machine called a C-PAP machine. C-PAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

You wear a mask that’s connected to the C-PAP machine by a hose and the machine blows a calibrated level of air pressure through the hose. Basically, this air pressure opens up the passages in your throat and airway, allowing you to breathe correctly.

You wake up feeling very refreshed…when I got my C-PAP machine, I was amazed at how good I felt when I woke up in the morning. I had forgotten how that felt and it was nice to feel good in the mornings again.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Most people don’t know they have sleep apnea but a major clue is when someone who lives with you says you snore very loudly.

Even if you live alone, here’s a list of symptoms of sleep apnea. Keep in mind that just because you may have one or two of the following symptoms, it may not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea.

Many of these symptoms – such as difficulty concentrating or being depressed…can develop for other reasons, especially if you have PTSD. Just to make sure, see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms and let her figure out what is going on.

  • choking or gasping for air while asleep
  • loud, prolonged snoring
  • concentration or memory problems
  • depression
  • feeling tired and sleepy during the day
  • suddenly awakening from sleep due to lack of air
  • urinating at night
  • having a dry or irritated throat upon awakening
  • headaches, especially in the morning

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Here are some of the primary causes of sleep apnea:

  • overweight or obese individuals may develop a thicker airway wall because of extra fat tissue
  • aging
  • a person’s throat muscles may become more relaxed than normal while they are asleep, preventing their airway from staying open
  • a person’s tonsils and tongue may be larger in comparison to their airway
  • the shape of the neck and head may cause a person to have a smaller airway passage

Sleep apnea is more common in men and in racial/ethnic minority populations. It may be genetic, so if you have a relative who had sleep apnea and you’re experiencing some of the symptoms listed earlier, it would be a good idea to be examined by your doctor.

Health Consequences of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can have a number of health consequences…none of them good. If you have sleep apnea, you may be at risk for the following:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • heart failure
  • heart disease
  • heart attack
  • impotence or erectile dysfunction
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • memory problems
  • concentration problems
  • heartburn or acid reflux
  • sudden death

Why Are PTSD and Sleep Apnea Often Found Together?

There have been a number of studies that have discovered that PTSD and sleep apnea are often found together.

And there have been numerous reports about veterans who suffered from severe cases of PTSD and sleep apnea…once the sleep apnea was treated, their PTSD went away.

Sleep apnea is one of many symptoms used to determine whether you have PTSD. If you have PTSD, there’s a good chance you never fall into the stage of sleep known as deep sleep. When you enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, you may often have nightmares.

Likewise, a person with sleep apnea never enters the deep stage of sleep and so they’re always physically, mentally, and emotionally tired. And a person with sleep apnea usually never enters the REM stage of sleep.

So you can see these two disorders overlap with some of their symptoms.

When sleep apnea gets to a certain point in your life, you may very well start to have flashbacks and nightmares related to the cause of your PTSD.

Sleep apnea causes PTSD to be worse because you’re so tired that the events that caused your PTSD were easily able to return to your mind.

You’ve forgotten the techniques you were taught for dealing with those events because you were so tired. This sequence of events causes your traumatic experiences to become very real again.

Once you get treated for the sleep apnea, research shows your PTSD symptoms will subside very quickly, allowing you to return to a less stressful time in your life when you are able to implement the skills you were taught to deal with PTSD .

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