Is There a Connection between PTSD and Sleep Apnea?

PTSD Sleep apnea

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after you go through some form of trauma or ordeal. 7-8% of people suffer from PTSD at one point or the other. There are several symptoms associated with PTSD, one of which includes experiences issues with sleep or even developing a sleeping disorder.

In this context, it is worth looking into the connection between PTSD and sleep apnea including their related causes, how this connection can impact your sleep and how you can treat them.

The Connection between PTSD and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can frequently occur either as a result of PTSD or can make its symptoms more intense. Sleep apnea itself affects up to 22% of men and 17% of women, the chances of which increase a lot more when it comes to people with PTSD.

In fact, based on a study, nearly 95% of the participants had issues with breathing during their sleep while 91% of crime victims with PTSD reported sleep-disordered breathing as well.

Military or army veterans with PTSD are further at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea due to their experiences. According to a study that screened 159 veterans, 69.2% were shown to be more vulnerable to sleep apnea.

If this kind of sleep apnea is left untreated, then it can certainly increase the intensity of the symptoms of PTSD. It is, therefore, necessary to seek the necessary treatment to reduce the occurrence of sleep apnea, as well as the associated symptoms of PTSD.

People with PTSD as well as sleep apnea might also witness an increase in the strength of their anxiety, depression, insomnia, addiction and more, which can be difficult to deal with in the aftermath of the trauma.

Does One Cause the Other?

There is no direct causation between PTSD and sleep apnea. That is, it is not clear whether PTSD causes sleep apnea or sleep apnea causes PTSD. Instead, there is definitely a correlation between the two, in which having one can increase the intensity of the other.

For example, if you already have PTSD, then you are likely to experience more extreme sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea, the strength of your PTSD symptoms will also increase.

Generally, sleep apnea leads to disturbed sleep. This is also why there are several associations between sleep apnea and depression, stress, drowsiness and a lack of productivity during the day.

When this is combined with PTSD, disturbed sleep can cause issues with several of the symptoms since proper sleep is one of the many requirements when it comes to reducing the symptoms of PTSD. When this requirement is not met, one’s PTSD can become much worse.

It is important to have enough room to deal with PTSD as well as sleep apnea. Reducing one’s symptoms might also reduce the symptoms of the other due to the correlation that exists between them.

There is, however, no proven relationship of cause between the two disorders.

Impact of This Connection

The connection between PTSD and sleep apnea can have several harmful impacts on your body and mind. In either case, your symptoms are likely to increase, making it difficult for you to manage your daily routine. Let’s take a look at some of these impacts in further detail.

  • Disturbed sleep can be a symptom of both PTSD and sleep apnea. This kind of disturbed sleep can then lead to a lack of sleep on a regular basis which can further impact your productivity, motor coordination and thinking abilities throughout the rest of the day.
  • You can also develop insomnia due to these disorders.
  • You might experience nightmares during your sleep. When sleep apnea disturbs sleep even more, you might not be able to effectively deal with either of the disorders, which could then interrupt your process of recovery.
  • You might also become prone to several long-term health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, chronic depression, addiction, decrease in sexual libido and several more.
  • Due to PTSD, you might constantly feel threatened, lose interest, experience gaps in your memory, lose attention easily, feel uneasy around the people around you and have interjecting flashbacks.


It is important to receive treatment to help you manage your PTSD as well as your sleep apnea better. In fact, because of the connection between the two, getting treatment for one can also help reduce the intensity of the other.

There are several options that you have in this regard. Let’s take a look at some of these here.

  • To treat your sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend taking continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, wherein you will need to wear a device that will help you breathe better while sleeping. This will give you sufficient sleep, which will also help reduce your fear associations. This can then improve your mood, productivity, energy levels and general behavior during the day as well.
  • Since sleep apnea can occur due to several lifestyle habits, you might also be asked to change your lifestyle to get rid of the symptoms while still taking CPAP therapy. This can depend on how intense your disorder is.
  • For PTSD in particular, you will need to attend individual and group therapy while also following a routine to accustom yourself to civilian life once again. You might also be prescribed medicines if your symptoms are severe.

Alongside this, you will also need to continue taking CPAP therapy to reduce your symptoms.

Concluding Remarks

Through this article, we have taken you through all the important aspects you need to know about the relationship or connection between PTSD and sleep apnea.

To sum up, while PTSD or sleep apnea do not directly cause the other, there is definitely a link between them.

Having one of these disorders is likely to increase the symptoms of the other. This can have a major impact on your sleep as well as your mood and behavior.

For this reason, it is necessary to access the relevant treatment as soon as possible so that you can effectively manage both.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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