Everyone has a bad dream occasionally. We all know what it feels like to jolt awake with a rapidly beating heart and unpleasant images lingering in our mind. Unfortunately, some individuals suffer from nightmares much more often than others. This could be due to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Let’s talk about why sleep apnea nightmares occur and what you may be able to do to enjoy sweeter dreams and higher-quality rest.
How Sleep Apnea Causes Nightmares
OSA is a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing throughout the night. Each apnea (period of not breathing) can last for 10 seconds or longer, and these episodes can occur dozens — perhaps even hundreds — of times each night. Apneas are the result of soft tissues in the upper airway becoming overly relaxed and blocking the free flow of oxygen.
An apnea can send the body into panic mode. Just like you might dream about needing to urinate when you really do need to use the restroom, you might have a nightmare about suffocation when your body isn’t able to breathe properly.
Scientists still do not fully understand the relationship between sleep apnea and nightmares. Some research indicates that more severe cases of OSA lead to increasingly unpleasant dreams. However, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people with severe OSA are less likely to recall their nightmares. This is probably due to the fact that their disorder does not allow them to spend much time in REM sleep, which is the stage of sleep when most dreaming occurs.
A Real Life Nightmare
Another aspect of the relationship between sleep apnea and nightmares has to do with anxiety. Anxiety is quite common in individuals who suffer from OSA and sleep deprivation, and anxiety is associated with an increased frequency of bad dreams. This may be because while you sleep, your brain remains busy processing information. If your thoughts throughout the day were filled with anxiety, that can translate into your sleep.
How to Have Better Dreams and More Restful Sleep
Here are a few things you can do that may reduce your nightmare frequency and help you get your OSA under control:
- Ask your doctor about a sleep test. A sleep test is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure that will reveal whether you have OSA and how severe the condition is.
- Seek sleep apnea treatment. Either an oral appliance or a CPAP machine can facilitate better breathing at night. Many patients prefer an oral appliance because it is more convenient and comfortable than CPAP therapy.
- Make a few lifestyle adjustments. Lowering your caffeine and alcohol content may reduce your risk of nightmares. Sleeping on your side and losing excess weight may both improve your sleep apnea symptoms.
- Care for your mental health. If you are struggling with severe anxiety, it would be appropriate to seek the help of a mental health professional.
Do you struggle with nightmares? Addressing your sleep apnea could be the key to enjoying better dreams and more restful shuteye.
Meet the Sleep Apnea Expert
Dr. Keith Hollinger is a dentist with well over 25 years of experience. He has devoted much of his career to helping patients conquer sleep apnea via oral appliance therapy. If you would like to speak to Dr. Hollinger about how you can achieve higher-quality rest, he would be happy to serve you. Contact our office at 860-430-5687.