Sleep Apnea and Anxiety: Unraveling the Complex Relationship - The Sleep Institute

Sleep Apnea and Anxiety: Unraveling the Complex Relationship

The relationship between sleep apnea and anxiety is intricate and multifaceted, with each condition having the potential to influence and exacerbate the other. Understanding this interplay is crucial for effective treatment and improving quality of life. In this blog, we will explore how sleep apnea and anxiety interact, their symptoms, treatment options, and how managing one condition can positively impact the other.

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety?

One of the most pressing questions is, "Can sleep apnea cause anxiety?" The answer is yes. Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep, can indeed lead to heightened anxiety. These interruptions prevent restful sleep, leading to chronic fatigue, irritability, and stress, which can manifest as anxiety.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, morning headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness. When the body repeatedly experiences these breathing interruptions, it triggers a stress response, increasing the production of stress hormones like cortisol. This physiological stress can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, creating a vicious cycle where poor sleep quality feeds anxiety and vice versa.

Can Anxiety Cause Sleep Apnea?

Conversely, many wonder, "Can anxiety cause sleep apnea?" While anxiety itself does not directly cause sleep apnea, it can contribute to conditions that exacerbate the disorder. Anxiety can lead to insomnia which can play a factor with sleep apnea both as a potential causative factor and make treatment of sleep apnea more challenging.

Moreover, anxiety can “lighten sleep" causing a state of hyperarousal with a lower arousal threshold which is one of the known causes of OSA among other issues.

Sleep Apnea and Panic Attacks

A significant concern for those suffering from both conditions is the potential for panic attacks. "Can sleep apnea cause panic attacks?" Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The sudden wakefulness and choking sensations are often experienced with the fight or flight response during a sleep apnea episode and can trigger panic attacks. These attacks, characterized by intense fear and chest pain, can further disrupt sleep and lead to sleep apnea anxiety attacks.

The distress caused by sleep apnea can make individuals dread falling asleep, anticipating another frightening episode, which further fuels anxiety. This anxiety can spill over into waking hours, causing morning anxiety and making it difficult to function normally during the day.

Anxiety-Induced Sleep Apnea

In some cases, severe anxiety can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. This is particularly relevant in anxiety-induced sleep apnea, where the heightened state of alertness and muscle tension interferes with normal breathing during sleep. The relationship between anxiety and sleep apnea is thought to be bidirectional, meaning that each can worsen the other, making it essential to treat both simultaneously.

Treatment and Management

Managing sleep apnea and anxiety requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both conditions. Here are some effective strategies:

    1. CPAP Therapy: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. By keeping the airways open during sleep, CPAP therapy reduces apnea episodes, improves sleep quality, and consequently, reduces anxiety related to poor sleep.
    2. Sleep Hygiene: Establishing good sleep hygiene is vital. This includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a restful sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bedtime. These practices can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.
    3. Therapy and Medication: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective for treating anxiety and can help address anxiety-related sleep issues. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage anxiety symptoms.
    4. Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management techniques such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises can significantly reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.
    5. Monitoring Salt Intake: High salt intake can increase blood pressure and exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms. Reducing salt in the diet can help manage both conditions.
    6. Addressing Snoring: Since snoring and anxiety are often linked with sleep apnea, using devices or strategies to reduce snoring can improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety.
    7. Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for managing sleep apnea, as excess weight can obstruct the airway and exacerbate symptoms. Weight loss through a balanced diet and regular physical activity can reduce the severity of sleep apnea, improve sleep quality, and lower anxiety levels.

Sleep Apnea vs. Anxiety: Recognizing the Difference

It is essential to distinguish between sleep apnea and anxiety as primary conditions. Sleep apnea is primarily a physical disorder with identifiable symptoms such as snoring and breathing interruptions. In contrast, anxiety is a mental health condition characterized by excessive worry and fear. However, because they often co-occur, a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional is necessary to develop an effective treatment plan.

Can Anxiety Cause Snoring?

Another interesting query is, "Can anxiety cause snoring?" While anxiety itself does not cause snoring, the stress and muscle tension associated with anxiety can contribute to disturbed breathing patterns during sleep, potentially leading to snoring. Addressing anxiety through relaxation techniques and proper sleep hygiene can help reduce snoring and improve overall sleep quality with deeper and more stable sleep.


The complex relationship between sleep apnea and anxiety underscores the importance of a holistic approach to treatment. By addressing both conditions simultaneously through CPAP therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, lifestyle changes, and good sleep hygiene, individuals can break the cycle of poor sleep and anxiety.

Understanding that sleep apnea can cause anxiety empowers individuals to seek appropriate treatment and support. Managing sleep apnea-induced anxiety using a comprehensive approach can lead to significant improvements in both sleep quality and mental health, enhancing overall well-being.

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