PTSD and Sleep Apnea: What You Need to Know

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be one of the most crippling mental illnesses. It occurs as a result of a traumatic event: abuse, violence, a near-death experience, and other forms of mental and/or physical trauma. Symptoms vary, but common manifestations include:

  • Unwanted, intrusive flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance and aggression
  • Depression and emotional numbness
  • Nightmares or night terrors

It’s important to note that despite its association with the military, PTSD can afflict anyone. With that said, veterans are significantly more likely to experience PTSD; in a survey of 60,000 veterans of the Iraq War, 13.5% of those surveyed tested positive for PTSD.

What’s not so obvious is the connection between PTSD and sleep apnea. If you suffer from PTSD, you should be aware of signs and symptoms so that you can get the help you deserve.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea – also called OSA – is a sleep disorder marked by interruptions in breathing while you sleep. These interruptions are typically due to a collapsed airway, hence the “obstructive” in the name. This airway collapse can happen for numerous reasons: genetics, diet, obesity, age, and others.

These interruptions are often invisible to the person with OSA, but very visible to any sleeping partners. Typically they are marked by an escalation in snoring followed by a loud snort or gasp for air as the body attempts to get oxygen.

In addition to causing poor sleep, OSA’s ability to reduce oxygen flow can cause other health problems if left untreated.

How Does PTSD Connect?

PTSD affects the sleep cycle in various ways. For one, sufferers often experience vivid nightmares that can both prevent and disrupt sleep. The stress associated with the condition can also cause high blood pressure, a contributing factor to sleep apnea.

A 2015 study examined this connection in detail. What makes this study particularly unique is that younger veterans – who often lacked the physical causes of OSA such as obesity and high blood pressure – still tested positive for OSA at unusually high rates. This indicates a likely connection between PTSD and OSA.

Do you suffer from sleep apnea? An oral sleep appliance is a custom-fit device that gently pushes your jaw forward as you sleep, allowing your airway to remain open. It’s painless, easy to wear, and is covered by most insurance plans (including the VA, classified as a prosthetic!) Klooster Family Dentistry can fit patients in the Triangle with an oral sleep appliance. Contact us today to learn more!