Lots of Americans complain about their sleep quality. And with good reason. More than 55 million Americans suffer from insomnia. 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea.

Does it feel like you’re awake throughout the entire night? Do you have trouble staying asleep? When you get up in the morning do you feel completely unrested? Are you drowsy throughout the day?

In the past 50 years, doctors have characterized a new clinical syndrome: sleep apnea associated with insomnia.

The quick run-down of sleep apnea: patients experience frequent episodes of “apnea” while sleeping, during which they are unable to breathe. Onset of respiration (i.e. a loud gasp/snort) causes them to partially or fully wake up.

The quick run-down of insomnia: habitual sleeplessness and/or an inability to sleep.

The takeaway from this new medical characterization is that some patients who complain of insomnia may likely suffer from sleep apnea.

How Could This Be?

Wait, this makes no sense?” — If that is your kneejerk response, you aren’t alone, and you’re probably familiar with the usual sleep apnea symptoms. This correlation does seem paradoxical and even improbable.

How could it be that insomnia is present in patients that commonly suffer from the symptom of excessive sleepiness (i.e. sleep apnea patients)? To put it more colloquially, how could it be that the same patient who is at risk of dozing off while operating heavy machinery could have insomnia?

Artist's rendition of insomnia

The Research

Recent research shows that about half of patients with a breathing related sleep disorder also experience insomnia.

This is a relatively new field of research, but there are several available studies.

Chronic Insomnia

Most of us experience the occasional transient insomnia. Others experience chronic insomnia, severe enough to negatively influence our jobs, academics, and lifestyles.

When a patient experiences insomnia for several months, they are often treated with a sleep medication. Unfortunately, patents often complain these medicines do little good. Research from the Rowe Neurology Institute discovered that many patients who complain of insomnia are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. At this point, it comes as no surprise that the drugs did not help, because sleep apnea is the root cause for these patients.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea and Insomnia

If you’re worried that you have Sleep Apnea paired with Insomnia, your best bet is to take a polysomnography or PSG. These are commonly known as “sleep studies.” These tests monitor your sleep overnight and provide a detailed report that helps a physician correctly diagnose your sleeping problems.

If you have severe obstructive sleep apnea, a dentist may have identified your condition. There are many dental specialists that are qualified to make this diagnosis. However, without a sleep study it would be more difficult to identify insomnia.


https://doi.org/10.1126/science.181.4102.856 Murray W. Johns; A New Method for Measuring Daytime Sleepiness: The Epworth Sleepiness Scale, Sleep, Volume 14, Issue 6, 1 November 1991, Pages 540-545


Photo Credit: Imgur.com

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