What’s the Difference Between Sleep Apnea and Insomnia?

You need quality sleep in order to keep your physical and emotional health intact. Almost everyone has a disturbed sleeping pattern at times, and reasons for this include a stressed work life, excessive dependence on caffeine, anxiety and depression. 

Such situations can become breeding grounds for sleep disorders.

Of the numerous sleeping disorders, the most prevalent ones are sleep apnea and insomnia. Understanding the difference between these two disorders is the first step to getting the sleep you deserve. 

This informative sleep apnea vs insomnia article highlights the symptoms, causes and treatment for each condition.

Sleep Apnea: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 

Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing pauses while you’re asleep. It’s a common sleep disorder that sends your heart rate plunging as you’re deprived of oxygen, which in turn causes involuntary reflexes that startle and awaken you towards the end of this no-oxygen period.

Your breathing resumes with a loud jerk or gasp, and your heart rate spikes, which then causes your blood pressure to skyrocket. 

For instance, when your blood pressure accelerates quickly, your heart walls thicken to manage the increased workload. This changes your heart’s structure, either making it stiffer or less flexible because of the growth of fibrous cells between the muscle cells.

All of these things not only interfere with your sleep but can also increase the risk of heart arrhythmia and can paralyze your heart’s functioning.

There are two types of commonly known sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This occurs when there are repeated episodes of airway blockage while sleeping, either partially or complete.

Central Sleep Apnea

This type of sleep apnea is related to the central nervous system. It occurs when the brain is unable to send breathing signals to the muscles because of irregularity in the respiratory control center.

Sleep Apnea Causes

Several factors may lead to sleep apnea, such as a person’s physique or any medical condition related to it, like excessive weight and obesity, endocrine disorders, genetics syndromes, kidney failure, or premature birth.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Loud snoring, daytime fatigue and sleepiness, waking up several times at night, reduced breathing, dry mouth and headaches when waking, and decreased visuospatial memory are common symptoms of sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

If diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor will suggest you to keep an open airway while sleeping, which can be done through breathing devices like a Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) machine or an implant. 

Depending on the severity and cause of your sleep apnea, there could be certain lifestyle changes that your doctor would recommend, along with alternative treatment options.

Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 

Insomnia is one of the most common sleeping disorders. It entails difficulty in falling asleep. Some people wake up in the middle of the night or early morning and are unable to sleep afterward.

Although the adequate sleep amount varies from person to person, adults generally need around seven to eight hours of undisturbed sleep. Lack of sleep caused by insomnia will not only sap your energy levels, but can worsen your health over time.

Insomnia consists of one of two kinds:

Acute or Adjustment Insomnia

This is a brief episode that lasts for a short amount of time (maybe a few days or weeks) where the person faces difficulty sleeping. 

It’s usually triggered by acute stress levels stemming from frustrating work life or a major personal crisis. The problem may fade once the origin of stress is located and addressed.

Chronic Insomnia

This type is a long-term issue wherein the person has a pattern of sleeplessness that may or may not be recurrent, but it usually is. Causes include a haphazard sleep pattern, poor sleep hygiene, neurological issues or unsuitable medications. It can last for three months or more, depending on the severity.

Insomnia Causes

While insomnia is generally tied to stress, there may be several other causes, including:

Irregular Sleeping Patterns

These are catalyzed by activities like watching TV, playing video games or scrolling on your smartphone before going to bed, which can create an uncomfortable sleep environment.  

Unhealthy Lifestyle Habits 

Bad habits can adversely affect your sleep cycle. For instance, overeating before going to bed can make you physically uncomfortable and result in heartburn or acid reflux.

Anxiety, depression or other mental health issues 

Any or all of these can cause sleeplessness.

Hormonal Imbalance or Fluctuations

Especially in women, imbalance can cause pain, irritation or other discomforts that can result in sleepless nights.

Certain medications 

Medications that contain caffeine and other stimulants can disturb your sleep cycle.

Aging and Insomnia 

Both of these factors have an unspoken relationship that’s strictly scientific. Once you grow older, your sleeping patterns, lifestyle, and health change which can cause insomnia.

For instance, as they grow “senior,” many citizens become socially and physically inactive or start taking daytime naps due to fatigue or pure boredom. This lack of activity can greatly interfere with their sleeping patterns.

Insomnia Symptoms

Insomnia has quite a few symptoms, such as:

  • Sleepless nights
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to sleep afterward
  • Feeling exhausted immediately after waking up
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Irritation and anxiety
  • Difficulty in staying alert or focusing on tasks

Insomnia Treatment

There are several pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatment options for insomnia. However, the effects are different for everyone and not all have the same symptoms or causes.  

Diagnosing and fully understanding the condition is best left to a health professional. Post-diagnosis, your doctor will provide you with a number of treatment options and you’ll narrow down to the one that’ll (probably) be the most effective in your case. 

Insomnia treatment often involves sleep training. Frequent daytime or irregular naps can confuse the body’s biological clock. Therefore, a consistent sleep schedule will have to be enforced in an attempt to signal the body about its sleeping and waking up time.

Also, maintain good sleep hygiene that generally involves avoiding or minimizing the following just before hitting the bed:

  • Caffeine or any caffeinated beverage
  • Exercising 
  • Screen time such as surfing the internet, watching TV, etc.

It’s worth noting that if a particular insomnia case is due to any other psychological or medical disorder, its treatment techniques will be different than the ones mentioned above.

Sleep Apnea Vs. Insomnia: Are They the Same?

The terms sleep apnea and insomnia are often used interchangeably, despite having different causes, symptoms and treatments. Simply put, insomnia is a symptom of sleep apnea. 

People with insomnia undergo episodes of disrupted or sleepless nights. If you wake up due to sleep apnea, you’ll most likely experience insomnia symptoms as a consequence.

Having insomnia doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has or will have sleep apnea.

Bottom Line

Sleep apnea and insomnia can rob you of a much-deserved good night’s sleep, and the sooner they’re cured, the better. Maintaining good sleep hygiene by creating a proper sleep environment can promote sound sleep.

A huge part of your ideal sleep environment is the pillow you use and the bed that you lie on. If your pillow isn’t providing you with the correct support or your bed sheet’s material is causing you discomfort, it can potentially ruin your sleep. 

These small, simple yet effective lifestyle changes will go a long way in curing sleep-related issues such as sleep apnea and insomnia.

Featured image courtesy of Adobe Stock Images.

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