Does PTSD Cause Sleep Apnea? Treating Sleep Apnea and PTSD Update 10/2022

It is possible to acquire post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following exposure to a traumatic event, such as war or criminal assault or abuse; terrorism; a natural disaster; or an automobile or plane tragedy. According to the National Center for PTSD, 7 to 8 percent of the population will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience a wide range of symptoms, including flashbacks, memory issues, and increased sensitivity to being startled.

Another sign of PTSD is insomnia. Anxiety-induced sleep deprivation and nightmares are the two most common symptoms of PTSD-related insomnia. Emerging research, however, suggests a strong link between PTSD and sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is characterized by frequent, loud snoring, gasping, or choking noises during the night. When these symptoms arise, the brain is forced to restart breathing, which interrupts sleep. It is because of this that people with OSA wake up feeling drowsy even though they have been sleeping soundly during the night.

The Link Between PTSD and Sleep Apnea

OSA and PTSD co-occurring how often? OSA afflicts 17% to 22% of the populace at large. This percentage can range from 12 to 90% in those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. More severe PTSD symptoms can be found in people who also suffer from OSA.

Symptoms of sleep apnea can indicate untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which has been linked to an increased risk of heart failure, dementia, and several malignancies. Ninety-five percent of those who fled the fire and ninety-one percent of those who were the victims of two or more crimes have sleep-disordered breathing.

Veterans are three times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sleep apnea is more common among men, who make up a bigger percentage of the veteran population. In one study, over three-quarters of the Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also had sleep apnea.

The likelihood of developing sleep apnea increases with age in the general population, according to research. However, young veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at a higher risk than their peers. Young Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans were found to have OSA in 69 percent of those who participated in the study, which was conducted in 2012.

As a result, those with PTSD who also suffer from OSA are more likely to suffer from depression, a higher risk of suicide, and an overall lower quality of life. OSA sufferers who get the condition before the age of 70 are more likely to die early.

Does PTSD Cause Sleep Apnea?

What is the relationship between sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder? It’s hard to say. As measured by the number of times a person pauses breathing for more than 10 seconds per hour, those with more severe OSA are more likely to suffer from more severe PTSD. At the same time, the more serious their PTSD, the more severe their OSA. Each clinically significant increase in PTSD symptom severity raised the chance of OSA by 40% for veterans.

Sleep apnea, which causes interruptions in sleep, can increase PTSD symptoms and make recovery more difficult. Sleep apneas awaken the sympathetic nervous system, reducing the quality of a person’s sleep even if they don’t cause them to wake up. Because sleep deprivation has an effect on mood and decision-making, CPAP therapy, a standard treatment for sleep apnea, is less likely to be used.

Fear Extinction and REM Sleep

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can benefit greatly from getting a good night’s sleep. Fear extinction occurs when your brain forgets the relationship between a neutral stimulus and an emotional response. Sleep, particularly REM sleep, has been shown to facilitate this process. Aside from consolidating and remembering events while in REM sleep, your brain strives to minimize the terror associated with particular memories.

During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, we experience both the extinction of fear and nightmares. Trauma-affected individuals’ REM sleep is disrupted when they wake up from nightmares, which can be detrimental to their ability to overcome their ingrained fears. Individuals with sleep apnea are even more prone to have sleep disturbances. In fact, apneas are more common in REM sleep for certain people with OSA.

Sleep apnea may be linked to a post-traumatic stress disorder, according to some researchers. Growth hormone (GH) levels are lower in those with PTSD than in people without PTSD, and a decrease in GH production is linked to increased nighttime awakenings. In people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), frequent awakenings might be a result of chronic stress.

Treating Sleep Apnea and PTSD

In addition, to talk therapy and medication, better sleep hygiene is often included in the treatment of PTSD because difficulty sleeping is a common arousal symptom. Doctors may advise patients to adhere to a regular sleep pattern, develop a stress-relieving nighttime ritual, and limit their intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the most prevalent treatment for sleep apnea in overweight individuals. Individuals use a CPAP mask while they sleep, which is connected to a CPAP machine on their bedside table through a hose. CPAP therapy helps people with sleep apnea by keeping their airways open while they sleep.

Because sleep apnea is associated with both anxiety and depression, it is possible to treat both conditions using CPAP therapy, which has been shown to reduce both symptoms. But the opposite is also true: untreated OSA is linked to worse results for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Adherence to CPAP Therapy

Because wearing a CPAP mask while you sleep is inconvenient, it’s not as widespread as doctors would want. Because of their fear of claustrophobia and nightmares, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are substantially less likely to undergo CPAP therapy on a regular basis. CPAP therapy is more difficult to tolerate in people who have frequent nightmares. Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) utilize CPAP therapy for fewer nights and for shorter periods of time (an average of 3.5 hours).

Veterans without post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were found to adhere to CPAP therapy 70% of the time, according to research. Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had an adherence rate of less than 50%.

The consequences of non-compliance with CPAP therapy are severe. Patients with PTSD and OSA who adhered to their CPAP therapy saw a 75% reduction in their PTSD symptoms, according to one study. It was 43 percent worse for those who did not.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who utilize their CPAP therapy more regularly had better outcomes. CPAP therapy had a greater impact on people with severe PTSD than on those with mild to moderate symptoms.

Specific CPAP therapy can reduce nightmare frequency and discomfort by as much as 50% for those with PTSD who suffer from it. Quality of life is improved with CPAP therapy, which reduces daytime sleepiness in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When It’s Time To See Your Doctor About Sleep Apnea

you are concerned that you may have sleep apnea because of your PTSD: you should see a doctor

  • Your partner has complained about your loud snoring or breathing pauses while you’re sleeping, and you’re not sure what to do about it.
  • During the night, you awaken gasping or choking.
  • After a good night’s sleep, you still feel exhausted.
  • A lack of sleep makes it difficult for you to concentrate in class or at work, or even when you’re behind the wheel.

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms. The symptoms of PTSD and OSA can be dramatically alleviated with continuous treatment, including CPAP and talk therapy.

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