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The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is often experienced by combat veterans, but they are not alone. Many adults suffer from chronic stress, impacting their ability to sleep and recuperate. Fortunately, modern scientific advances have elucidated some of this disorder’s mechanics. Consequently, anyone can benefit from the following tips and advice when tackling sleep.

PTSD’s Impact on Restful Sleep

The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as a condition resulting from shocking, scary, or dangerous events. Typically, these incidents involve the risk of actual physical harm or at least the threat of it. 

During tense moments, the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered. Therefore, a fearful event may activate the limbic system, which leaves a long-lasting impression. Afterward, a patient may experience a wide array of symptoms, including flashbacks. 

Usually, they will begin developing frequent nightmares, adversely impacting their sleep quality. In addition to frightful dreams, sufferers often startle easier and have angry outbursts. Furthermore, their attention during daylight hours worsens, impacting work, school, and more.

Although it is associated with wartime episodes, PTSD can result from other experiences. For example, someone may manifest similar symptoms if they have been assaulted. Also, domestic abuse, kidnappings, and auto accidents can lead to symptom development.

The National Center for PTSD estimates seven to eight out of every 100 people experience it on average. Nevertheless, there are some resilience factors that protect against the acquisition of this disorder. As a result, not everyone will have symptoms accompanying their experiences, despite similarities. In many cases, PTSD manifests following the death of a loved one or if a friend is harmed.

PTSD’s Association With Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Doctors utilize a comprehensive diagnostic protocol when they evaluate someone for post-traumatic stress. These diagnostics include two sleep-related components. First, recurrent bad dreams and frequent night terrors are one sign you may have it. Next, having difficulty falling and staying asleep is another common manifestation of PTSD.

Frequently, patients do not recognize or realize what they are experiencing. Failing to notice patterns in sleep habits can increase how long someone waits to ask for help. Likewise, refusing treatment when struggling to sleep after trauma can increase PTSD. 

In other words, if you let sleep disturbances continue unabated, you may develop them. Further, continued sleep disruptions can maintain the disorder, affecting many-core life areas.

Defining PTSD’s Relationship With Sleep Disturbances

Researchers continue to elucidate the perplexing relationship PTSD shares with sleep apnea. Nonetheless, there are obvious connections between them, so they are both worth treating. Severe sleep apnea can exacerbate PTSD severity, worsening quality of life significantly. 

Without sufficient treatment, sleep apnea can prolong and maintain PTSD symptoms. But on the other hand, not all research has supported the association between them. Obstructive sleep apnea results from upper airway blockages caused by the soft palate. 

Sometimes, the airways are blocked by the tongue, preventing comfortable breathing. When this happens, there are transient drops in blood O2 levels, eliciting a response. Since this also elevates carbon dioxide levels, the brainstem detects the chemical changes. Then, it alerts the body, waking it up with a sudden jolt that can be frightening.

Moreover, the change induces a stress response, and cortisol is released. As it floods into the bloodstream, stressful experiences may be remembered, exacerbating PTSD. If this cycle occurs at least five times an hour, it qualifies as sleep apnea. A constellation of classic symptoms can be seen in most cases of sleep apnea.

For example, a person may snore, pause their breathing, or gasp during sleep. Upon waking, they may notice their mouths are dry, or they might suffer bruxism. Heart palpitations occur in a minority of circumstances, but it is worth noticing if it does. 

Occasionally, sufferers can anticipate long-term health consequences if the disorder is not treated. The risk of hypertension, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction all increase. Sleep apnea symptoms can be pervasive unless treatment is sought.

Effective Treatment Protocols for Sleep Apnea

Generally, the most effective way to treat sleep apnea is by using a CPAP machine. These exert continuous positive pressure on the affected airways, forcing them open. Thus, they will not collapse, and breathing will be less laborious.

Addressing Sleep Disruptions and Improving Quality of Rest

Developing PTSD or sleep apnea can impact happiness, sleep, and quality of life. Treating them should be a top priority, no matter who they are affecting.



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