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Is Sleep Apnea The Root Cause of Insomnia?


Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Insomnia is also a common symptom of sleep apnea. Although many may believe that chronic insomnia is a completely separate sleep disorder from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), there is evidence that suggest the two overlap. Clinical studies show that 39% to 58% of patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea also have insomnia.

The link between these two sleep disorders is very strong. According to a study published by the Journal of Sleep Medicine, Dr. Barry Krakow tested 20 patients with insomnia and found 18 of the 20 suffered from sleep-disordered breathing. Eleven of those patients had Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the most common form of sleep apnea.

In studies conducted by Dr. Wickwire, (Director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine and co-director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Associates in Columbia, Maryland) it is noted that many of his patients with insomnia also have narrow upper air passageways. Also, they are either undiagnosed for sleep apnea, or a have a condition called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS). Upper airway resistance syndrome is very similar to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in that the soft tissue of the throat relaxes, obstructs the airway and results in a disturbed sleep. The difference is that the length of time of each breathing pause is not long enough to be called an actual apnea. The multiple pauses in breathing experienced with UARS causes the body to have a stress response keeping the insomniac awake and their mind racing. “There is clear evidence that patients with sleep apnea are at increased risk for comorbid chronic insomnia, and patients with insomnia suffer elevated rates of occult sleep disordered breathing,” says Dr. Wickwire.

People with insomnia have similar symptoms of sleep apnea including frequent urination during the night (nocturia), dry mouth, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, and snoring. Unfortunately, patients and primary care physicians are not aware of the connection of insomnia with sleep breathing disorders. Consequently, many of these patients go undiagnosed for years. Patients with insomnia are often treated with sleep medications that can have potential serious side effects. Keep in mind, there is no medication that can provide a good night’s sleep if you have OSA. If you are an insomniac who wakes during the night, you should rule out obstructive sleep apnea as a possible root cause of your sleep problems.

At Raphaelson Dental Sleep Center we offer our patients a free airway evaluation to determine whether there are any obstructions in the airway that can be causing OSA and symptoms of insomnia. We also provide our patients with at convenient home sleep study that identifies and diagnoses sleep apnea. Most major medical insurances offer benefits for sleep apnea treatment and our sleep coordinators will help assist you with any question. Visit our sleep site raphaelsondentalsleepcenter.com for more information!

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