Is Sleep Apnea Connected to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

People who have either experienced or witnessed a traumatic incident (like fatal accidents, death of a close relative or friend, sexual assaults, natural calamities etc) can develop an anxiety disorder, which we refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients tend to have nightmares of the traumatic incident which will interfere with their sleep considerably. Several studies have indicated that post-traumatic stress disorder can also cause another sleep disorder, which is sleep apnea.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Sleep Apnea:

Before we see how the anxiety disorder leads to the sleep disorder, let us understand sleep apnea first. Sleep apnea is a disorder where a person would stop breathing for a certain period of time (could be for seconds or minutes) in his/her sleep.

Sleep apnea can be of two types, viz. central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. While the former is the resultant of lack of signals from the brain to the muscles that assist in breathing, the latter is caused because of obstructed airways.

Now, how does PTSD affect the breathing during sleep, that it leads to sleep apnea? Here’s the answer.

  • As mentioned above, people suffering from PTSD suffer from nightmares about the traumatic incident they were part of. This lays a lot of stress in them, and stress affects the breathing mechanisms. Since the stress occurs during sleep in PTSD patients, the breathing mechanism is obstructed during sleep, and would lead to central sleep apnea.
  • One may either breathing cessations or breathe so rapidly in the sleep, that after waking up, they would be left gasping.

Dealing with Sleep Apnea in PTSD Sufferers:

Both children and adults can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which as we can see can lead to a lot of stress, breathing problems and other health problems. The family of the person suffering from the problem should have to be helpful in making the sufferer let out his/her suppressed feelings.

  • Seek medical assistance for the nightmares’ episodes. Anti-psychotic, anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed by the doctor to deal with patients problems.
  • For the breathing problems due to sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks would have to be used.

It is thus important to understand that PTSD could lead to sleep apnea, and it is important to deal with the problems at an early stage before they can lead to other health complications.

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