If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, you may not feel like yourself during the day. Lack of sleep can cause many physical problems, including sluggishness, inability to concentrate, and slow reflexes. Without catching your zzzs, you may even feel more anxious. So is it possible that sleep apnea causes you to feel anxious? Or does your anxiety cause you to develop sleep apnea? Let’s look at whether sleep apnea and anxiety are related.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Many individuals wake up feeling tired because they have an undiagnosed sleep apnea disorder. Sleep apnea is a medical condition that affects your ability to breathe well when you sleep.
The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive sleep apnea, caused by muscles in your throat relaxing and blocking your airways partially or entirely when you sleep. Out of the 326 million people in the US, 10% have obstructive sleep apnea. (1)
Obstructive sleep apnea can cause snoring, repeatedly waking during the night for “no reason,” gasping for breath, waking up feeling sleepy, daytime grogginess, and more. If you remain undiagnosed and don’t seek treatment for your sleep disorder, you could face serious health issues.
According to Sleep Apnea Statistics, untreated obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of:
- Heart failure by 140%
- Stroke by 60%
- Coronary heart disease by 30% (1)
Does Anxiety Contribute to Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Whether anxiety causes sleep apnea is up for debate. There are three types of sleep apnea. The most common type, obstructive sleep apnea, is caused by physical muscle relaxation in your throat or palate and does not seem to be caused by anxiety. There is no direct link showing that anxiety causes obstructive sleep apnea.
In fact, some studies show the opposite:
“the frequency of anxiety in OSAS patients is higher than in the general population… Furthermore, it is more likely that OSAS patients present with anxiety and depression…” (2)
So if you have obstructive sleep apnea that is not under control, you may be more likely to have anxiety or depression.
Anxiety may not cause obstructive sleep apnea, but it can cause a lack of sleep. A meta-analysis of subjective and objective research about sleep in anxiety-related disorders found that anxiety may affect your sleep: how deep you sleep and how long you sleep each night. (3)
So if you suffer from an anxiety disorder that you feel causes you to sleep poorly, try to reduce your anxiety by seeing your doctor for any physical issues, eating healthily, and limiting your stress and worry level overall.
Does Anxiety Cause Central Sleep Apnea?
Another type of sleep apnea, caused by your brain not communicating with your body about breathing while you sleep, causes your body to forget to breathe for 10 seconds or more at a time while you sleep.
“Central sleep apnea occurs because your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing….Central sleep apnea can result from other conditions, such as heart failure and stroke. Another possible cause is sleeping at a high altitude.” (4)
Because central sleep apnea involves issues with the central nervous system, the same physical issues causing your anxiety could also cause your central sleep apnea.
Physical Issues Causing Anxiety
Anxiety is an uncontrolled level of worry or uneasiness, a fear that something is wrong or something bad might happen. You can create anxiety by worrying too much or by facing extreme environmental stressors. However, anxiety can also have physical causes.
According to a pneumonic, “THINC MED,” developed by Georgetown University psychiatrist Robert Hedeya, MD, doctors look at these medical causes to diagnose physically caused anxiety:
- Infectious diseases
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Central nervous system trauma or illness
- Electrolyte abnormalities and environmental toxins
- Medications or drugs
- Any chronic disease or chronic pain condition can elicit anxiety as the illness progresses and impairs function
Because lack of sleep impairs your function, you can feel more anxiety when you lose sleep. Patients with sleep apnea are also more likely to have other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and substance abuse. (5)
Treatment for any sleep apnea is crucial for getting your needed amount of sleep and feeling your best.
Lack of Sleep Causes Anxiety
Many studies show that lack of sleep may cause anxiety, especially in those already prone to anxiety disorders. Lack of sleep can create brain activity in the areas for emotional processing. This brain activity is the same kind of abnormal brain processing that occurs in anxiety disorders. (6)
According to PsychCentral, ”Researchers also believe that chronic worriers – those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder – are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.”
So if you are naturally prone to anxiety, a lack of sleep can make your anxiety disorder worse.
One type of anxiety disorder, called Panic Disorder comes with panic attacks. According to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, sleep apnea appears to cause a higher risk of developing panic disorder.
So sleep apnea or lack of sleep can cause anxiety because they both affect your physical body and brain in ways that change your brain’s processing.
If you struggle with anxiety daily and wonder if sleeping poorly could contribute to your anxiety, see your ENT doctor for solutions to sleep better. Sleep apnea is a commonly undiagnosed disorder that can truly wreak havoc on your life. Seeing your ENT doctor for a sleep study can diagnose any sleep issues you may face. Getting treatment for any kind of sleep apnea you may have is crucial to health and wellbeing.
Bottom line: Living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder can cause anxiety and is not healthy for your mind or body.
We Can Help
At Enticare, our ENT doctors specialize in sleep disorders and the treatments to give you better rest. You can wake up feeling refreshed again, whether anxiety causes your sleep issues or not. Breathing properly is crucial to a good night’s sleep. Our focus on sleep disorders gives you a chance to find out if your anxiety is caused by a lack of good sleep. Contact us and set up a sleep study or make an appointment. Find out how we can help you start feeling refreshed and ready for your day again.
- Sleep Apnea Statistics
- The correlation of anxiety and depression with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome
- Sleep in the anxiety-related disorders: A meta-analysis of subjective and objective research
- Central sleep apnea – Symptoms and causes
- Sleep Apnea and Risk of Panic Disorder
- Sleep Loss Increases Anxiety — Especially Among Worriers
- Sleep Apnea and Risk of Panic Disorder