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Insomnia vs. Sleep Apnea: Vital Information for a Better Night’s Rest

By November 15, 2022December 7th, 2022Sleep Medicine
man with sleep apnea yawning

Health experts are constantly lauding the benefits of a good night’s sleep. From a stronger immune system to a healthier weight, it seems there is no end to what solid rest can do for your body. But if you suffer from a sleep disorder, nights can be torturous, no matter what steps you take. Fortunately, sleep medicine can improve both your rest and your overall health.

Two of the most common sleep conditions are insomnia and sleep apnea. While the two often overlap, these are separate issues that may require distinct treatment. Dr. Tim Mickiewicz is board certified through the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines. He understands the subtle differences between the two conditions and can provide appropriate care for sleep apnea at his Sacramento, CA, practice. 

If you are ready for an improved night’s sleep, better overall health, and an enhanced quality of life, contact our office today.

What is insomnia?

If you suffer from insomnia, you have problems falling or staying asleep. Insomnia may be acute, meaning it is a short-term problem that typically goes away on its own. Or it may be chronic, meaning that it lasts for more than three months. Chronic insomnia can be further divided into primary and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia has no clear physical cause, although it can often result from stress or trauma. Secondary insomnia is the result of another health condition.

Symptoms of insomnia may include: 

  • Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability, moodiness, or depression

Insomnia is unfortunately common. An estimated 10% to 30% of American adults suffer from chronic insomnia, and the risk rises with age. 

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes disruptions during sleep. For patients who suffer from this condition, their airways close off during the night, interrupting breathing. In turn, patients could wake up multiple times a night so that normal air flow can resume. Sometimes patients are unaware of these awakenings. Unlike those with insomnia, however, individuals with OSA do not typically have trouble falling asleep.

The symptoms of OSA can include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up in the night, often with a gasp for air
  • Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Difficulty concentrating 

Although OSA is less prevalent than insomnia, it is still far too common. 3% to 7% of the US population suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, but the percentage is higher among certain subgroups.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

Because insomnia and sleep apnea present many of the same symptoms, it can be difficult to determine which one you have. Even the notorious “tell-tale sign” of OSA – snoring – is not always a reliable indicator. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. 

For a definitive diagnosis, Dr. Mickiewicz will likely recommend a sleep study. You will wear a tracking device while you sleep that will measure your heart rate, breathing rate, blood oxygen, and snoring. 

Risks of Both Sleep Disorders

Just as insomnia and OSA present many of the same symptoms, they also have many of the same long-term risks. Both conditions can increase your risk for:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Car accidents
  • Mood disorders

When Insomnia and Sleep Apnea Occur Together 

Though insomnia and sleep apnea are two separate conditions, they can occur together. In fact, an estimated 37% of sleep apnea patients also suffer from insomnia. The exact correlation between these two conditions is uncertain. For some patients, insomnia may lead to sleep apnea, but for others, the reverse could be true. And in many cases, the two conditions may play off of each other, making both of them worse. 

Insomnia Treatment

The treatments for insomnia and sleep apnea are very different. Insomnia treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Improve your sleeping environment by making sure that it is completely dark and quiet. Avoid screens 30 minutes before bed. Reduce or avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can interfere with sleep. 
  • Therapy: Since insomnia often results from stress, anxiety, and/or trauma, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you control negative thoughts and worries. A qualified therapist can also teach you relaxation techniques and stimulus control. 
  • Medications: Your doctor may also prescribe medications, often in conjunction with these other treatments and if they do not prove effective on their own. Many doctors do not recommend sleep medications as a long-term solution. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Obstructive sleep apnea is largely a physiological problem for which there are three primary treatments: 

  • CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure): Patients wear a mask that emits a steady stream of air into the nose and mouth. The airflow keeps the airways open during the night. Unfortunately, many patients find it difficult to sleep with a CPAP machine. It is also bulky and can be inconvenient. 
  • Oral appliances: Sleep experts like Dr. Mickiewicz prefer to use a mandibular advancement device (MAD) to treat sleep apnea. This custom-made appliance helps to push your lower jaw forward and tighten the soft tissues in your palate and throat. Oral appliances are discreet, convenient, and comfortable. 
  • Lifestyle changes: As with insomnia, certain lifestyle changes can be effective. Since excess weight is often connected to sleep apnea, weight loss can help to minimize the symptoms. In addition, Dr. Mickiewicz may advise quitting smoking and decreasing or avoiding alcohol use. 

For patients who suffer from both insomnia and OSA, a multi-prong approach may be necessary. Dr. Mickiewicz can collaborate with experienced therapists and other specialists in the Sacramento area. Combined with his holistic, conservative approach to sleep medicine, a team of experts can help you enjoy the complete night’s sleep you need to thrive. 

Contact Us for Effective Sleep Medicine

If your sleep has become a nightly struggle, you don’t have to suffer alone! Contact Dr. Mickiewicz today for an evaluation and consultation. 
You can request an appointment online or call us at (916) 469-9178.