Sleep Apnea and Anxiety: What Is the Connection?

anxiety and sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, affecting millions of people in the US, which causes interrupted sleep and the body does not get the required rest. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the lack of proper sleep can result in increased tiredness, grogginess and reduced alertness.

In fact, sleep apnea affects several facets of health, right from physical to mental and psychological health. So, is there a connection between sleep apnea and anxiety? We’ll discuss this in-depth in this article.

Sleep Apnea and Anxiety

Our modern life is full of stress and anxiety is a natural way by which our body deals with stress. However, when the anxiety becomes uncontrolled, then problems occur and it can prevent you from living your life normally. Inadequate sleep and good rest can be caused because of overwhelming worry, stress and anxiety.

Sleep apnea is essentially when your regular breathing stops briefly and restarts repeatedly when you sleep. This causes the airflow to become unbalanced and the other body processes become impaired.

When you have an episode of sleep apnea, a panic signal is sent to the brain to awaken your body so that it can resume breathing.

When this occurs several times during the night, it prevents you from getting uninterrupted, restful sleep. This repeated interruption of sleep, results in sleep debt, causing your brain to struggle when coping with stress and anxiety.

And, when you have several nights of bad sleep, this causes the neurochemicals in the brain to change and this, in turn, alters your thinking pattern and mood.

The effect of this cumulative sleep deprivation makes it very hard for your brain to deal with the stress, which is additional to the stress that the body feels because it is not getting the restful and restorative sleep it requires.

This affects your blood pressure, heart health, the body’s ability to recover and heal and also causes several physiological problems.

Another link between sleep apnea and anxiety is related to the sleep stages. The “deep sleep” phase is a very important part of the sleep cycle and in this stage, the brain waves start to slow down and it is also when your body begins to repair and heal the tissues, store up energy for the next day and boosts your immune system.

If the body does not reach the deep stage or get interrupted like it does when you suffer from sleep apnea, this prevents the body, as well as your mind from working normally.

Sleep apnea can cause several symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, restlessness, sweating, rapid breathing, inability to focus, hyperventilation, chest pain, etc., all of which indicate anxiety that can be caused because of sleep apnea.

And, if you already suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, then sleep apnea can cause them to worsen. So, while it is clear that sleep apnea can contribute to anxiety, it is also a known fact that anxiety can cause sleeplessness and insomnia. And, in turn, this can aggravate sleep apnea, which can impact your sleep, even more, leading to a vicious cycle.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, it was seen that people whose sleep was limited to around 4.5 hours a night ended up feeling more stressed and physically and mentally exhausted.

There is a link between sleep apnea and anxiety and if you are struggling with one issue, the other generally follows. So, whether your anxiety has been caused or has worsened because of sleep apnea if they are not treated, it can become quite dangerous.

Can Anxiety Cause Sleep Apnea?

While anxiety and sleep apnea may go hand in hand and both are linked, one may not necessarily cause the other. Sleep apnea may cause an increased risk of anxiety; however, there is not much evidence suggesting that anxiety can cause sleep apnea.

Anxiety may not be a factor in developing sleep apnea; however, it can cause hindrance in the treatment for sleep apnea. While there are several types of treatment for OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) that mainly focus on reducing the risk of apneas occurring when sleeping, thus ensuring that you get good quality sleep consistently.

Sleep apnea can be eliminated only by ensuring that you sleep without any interruptions and reducing sleep debt. Since typically anxiety prevents sleep, as a result, it makes the treatments for sleep apnea less effective.

How to Treat Sleep Apnea and Anxiety?

Since both sleep apnea and anxiety exacerbate one another, the best way to break the endless cycle is to treat both of them; however, sleep apnea should be addressed first. Once you start sleeping well at night, it will automatically reduce your anxiety.

However, if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, then it may be a good idea to treat both anxiety, as well as sleep apnea, at the same time. And, once the treatment for sleep apnea starts working, then you can reduce the anxiety treatment.

CPAP Therapy and Anxiety

It has been seen that CPAP therapy can be used to treat sleep apnea effectively. And, as we have seen earlier, sleep apnea and anxiety are linked and so, CPAP therapy may help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety too.

Treating one condition may have a positive effect on the other. Using CPAP therapy to treat sleep apnea means that you will have an uninterrupted sleep at night, without apnea events that will wake you up several times in the night, which will ensure that you wake up in the morning feeling well rested and refreshed.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, if you’re suffering from either anxiety or sleep apnea or both, then it is a good idea to consult your doctor and consider getting treatment for both conditions.

Treating sleep apnea can help to reduce anxiety and stress while helping to reduce the risk of several other serious health problems.

There are many treatment options today that offer benefits for both conditions and treatment of one can impact the other directly and improve your physical and mental well-being.


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.

Recent Posts