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Sleep Apnea and PTSD

Sleep Apnea and PTSD

Is there a link between sleep apnea and PTSD? Scroll down to find out more on why a person suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may suffer from sleep apnea.
Smita Pandit
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may develop in people who have recently been subjected to physical or mental trauma. Any traumatic event, wherein one is faced with the fear of losing his/her own life, or losing someone or something that is very dear to him/her, may act as the triggering factor for PTSD. Accidents, natural calamities, torture, domestic abuse or sexual abuse are some of the types of events that may leave an indelible mark on one's psyche. Memories of the traumatic event may haunt the sufferers, making it extremely difficult for them to lead a normal life. Their thoughts may center around that particular event and they may find themselves reliving that event in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. This may affect one's sleep pattern. In fact, studies have revealed that a majority of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder suffer from sleep disorders. In this article, we will look into the connection between sleep apnea and PTSD.

Can PTSD Cause Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which is characterized by pauses in breathing that may disrupt sleep. Sleep apnea is categorized into central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. At times, one may suffer from mixed sleep apnea. In case of central sleep apnea, the pauses in breathing occur when the brain doesn't send signals to the breathing muscles. On the other hand, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when there is obstruction in the airways. Mixed sleep apnea, as the name suggests, occurs when pauses in breathing are caused by the inability of the brain to send signals to the muscles along with obstruction in the airways.

Studies have indicated that people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, often suffer from sleep apnea or shallow breathing at night. It is a known fact that stress can affect one's breathing mechanics and such breathing irregularities during sleep could even cause sleep deprivation. The connection between sleep disorders and PTSD, is mainly attributed to the recurring flashbacks or nightmares. In fact, episodes of disordered breathing that are caused due to central sleep apnea, may become more frequent as the patient relives the traumatic event during the REM sleep. The nightmares may induce rapid breathing and at times, one may wake up gasping for breath. Such anxiety sleep disorders can certainly affect one's sleep, which in turn, would have serious repercussions on one's health.

Treatment of PTSD and Sleep Apnea

Now that you know why people suffering from anxiety disorders are more likely to suffer from sleep-disordered breathing, let's find out what needs to be done to help such patients. Since a majority of people suffering from PTSD are highly susceptible to sleep apnea, there is a great need to help such a person lead a normal life. Family members and friends must help the affected individual in venting out their suppressed feelings. PTSD can affect children as well as adults. There is a great need to identify the symptoms, and seek medical assistance. While some people are always in denial or suppress their emotions, some may become jumpy and respond to even insignificant stimulus. If the person who has recently faced any traumatic event, seems to be suffering from recurring nightmares and flashbacks or showing signs of PTSD, doctors may prescribe drugs to alleviate the physical and mental symptoms. Psychotherapy or behavioral therapy would be required for helping out the affected individual. Antianxiety medications, antidepressants and anti-psychotic drugs may certainly help, but it is emotional support that will help the person cope better. While treating PTSD will certainly lower the incidence of rapid shallow breathing or sleep disturbance in such cases, one may also benefit by using CPAP masks. A CPAP mask is a breathing device that is fitted over one's nose or mouth so as to deliver air. This helps in preventing the airways from getting blocked. Certain alternative healing therapies or relaxation techniques may also help in the treatment of sleep apnea and anxiety.

Both PTSD and sleep apnea can be tackled, but it is essential that these conditions are diagnosed at an early stage. While sleep apnea can cause sleep deprivation, and cause serious complications, PTSD can leave a serious impact on one's ability to lead a normal life. It is therefore essential that signs of these conditions are recognized at an early stage and the necessary steps are taken to alleviate the symptoms.