Is it sleep apnea or insomnia? Know the difference

Sleep apnea and insomnia are two distinct sleep disorders with different characteristics and underlying causes. Read on to know the differences between them.
Woman trying to sleep
Studies show that type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and cancer, are all linked to sleep disorders. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Aayushi Gupta Updated: 17 Oct 2023, 18:29 pm IST
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When the disco king of Bollywood, Bappi Lahiri, passed away at the age of 69 due to obstructive sleep apnea, it raised more concerns regarding sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being, affecting your ability to function optimally during the day. Two common sleep disorders that affect a large number of individuals worldwide are sleep apnea and insomnia. These conditions can disrupt normal sleep patterns, leading to various physical and psychological complications. While you may know about them, you may not know the differences between the two conditions

Health Shots got in touch with Dr Rajiv Kovil, a diabetologist, and secretary at the United Diabetes Forum, to spot the difference between these two sleep disorders.

Dr Kovil says, “Sleep apnea and insomnia are both sleep disorders that can affect the quality and duration of sleep, resulting in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and reduced cognitive function. Both sleep apnea and insomnia are relatively common sleep disorders, affecting a significant portion of the population; however, they differ in their underlying causes and symptoms.” So, let’s understand the difference between these conditions.

Difference between sleep apnea and insomnia

Here are the symptoms, causes, health risks and treatment options of both conditions which can help you understand the difference between these two sleep disorders.

Causes of sleep apnea or insomnia

Sleep apnea: It is primarily caused by the partial or complete blockage of the upper airway during sleep, leading to interrupted breathing and oxygen deprivation, and is characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. These pauses, known as apneas, can last for several seconds to minutes and can occur multiple times throughout the night. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type and is typically associated with physical factors such as obesity or anatomical abnormalities. Other types of sleep apnea are central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea syndrome (a combination of OSA and CSA).

sleep apnea and insomnia
For the right treatment, knowing the condition is essential. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Insomnia: It is generally characterized by difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Insomnia can have various causes, including stress, anxiety, depression, medications, underlying medical conditions, or poor sleep hygiene. Insomnia can be classified into two categories: acute insomnia, which lasts for a short period of time, and chronic insomnia, which persists for at least three nights a week for three months or more.

Symptoms of sleep apnea or insomnia

Sleep apnea: The primary symptoms of sleep apnea include loud and chronic snoring, abrupt awakenings accompanied by choking or gasping for air, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and difficulty concentrating.

Insomnia: Symptoms of insomnia may include trouble falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, early morning awakenings, daytime fatigue, irritability, and difficulty focusing or concentrating.

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Health risks of sleep apnea or insomnia

Sleep apnea: Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.

Insomnia: Insomnia can lead to decreased quality of life, impaired cognitive function, an increased risk of accidents, and an association with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

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Treatment options for sleep apnea or insomnia

Sleep apnea: Treatment options for sleep apnea often include lifestyle changes (such as weight loss, positional therapy), continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, or, in severe cases, surgical intervention.

sleep apnea and insomnia
Your doctor can help you treat both insomnia and sleep apnea. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Insomnia: Treatment for insomnia can involve addressing the underlying causes, such as stress management, improving sleep hygiene practices, cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), and, in some cases, short-term use of sleep medications.

Sleep apnea and insomnia can also co-exist

Sleep apnea is primarily characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep, resulting in snoring, daytime sleepiness, and poor sleep quality. Insomnia, on the other hand, is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to sleep deprivation, fatigue, and impaired daytime functioning. Moreover, it is important to note that sleep apnea and insomnia can coexist in some individuals, further complicating their sleep-related difficulties. Hence, if you suspect you have either sleep apnea or insomnia, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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About the Author

Aayushi Gupta is a health writer with a special interest in trends related to diet, fitness, beauty and intimate health. With around 2 years of experience in the wellness industry, she is connected to leading experts and doctors to provide our readers with factually correct information. ...Read More

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