Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety?

Anxiety and sleep apnea are both two debilitating disorders that can affect day-to-day life for anyone suffering from them.

And what’s worse is that either condition can make the other worse which can cause those with either condition to end up in a vicious cycle that seems inescapable. 

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety?

Sleep apnea is a medical condition where individuals have breathing issues during their sleep. More specifically, it causes your breathing to stop intermittently while you are asleep.

And this can be pretty scary for everyone involved. 

It is estimated that approximately 22 million individuals in the United States alone suffer from the condition.

And that untreated this condition can even lead to death from heart disease complications related to sleep apnea. So, it’s unsurprising that it can make individuals feel anxious. 

In this article, we’re going to look a little more in-depth at the links between sleep apnea and anxiety, so if you’d like to learn more, keep on reading. 

What Are Sleep Apnea And Anxiety? 

Okay, so we touched on this above, but before we take a look at the links between sleep apnea and anxiety let’s first define the terms. 

Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes individuals breathing to alter during their sleep. This can be that the individual’s breathing becomes incredibly shallow or in some instances, it can stop altogether.

These periods tend to last for around 10-30 seconds and can happen as much as 30 times per night, and this value can increase further in more severe cases. 

Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea include: 

  • Frequent snoring (often loud)
  • Gasping or choking while asleep
  • Excessive daytime tiredness
  • Concentration issues during the day
  • Headaches and dry mouth in the morning
  • Sexual dysfunction 


Anxiety relates more directly to an emotional disorder that causes individuals to experience extreme feelings of worry, nervousness, and tension.

But it often also involves several physical symptoms too such as high blood pressure and an increased heart rate. 

While sometimes infrequent anxiety is to be expected in certain scenarios such as before exams or interviews, experiencing these feelings often and consistently is an indicator of an anxiety disorder.

These overwhelming feelings are often present in most situations and last for more than six months at a time. 

Some of the symptoms of anxiety include: 

  • Frequent feelings of tension or restlessness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Concentration issues
  • Intrusive and uncontrollable worries or stress
  • Sleeping issues 

How Anxiety Affects Sleep

As you can see from the list of symptoms above, anxiety can often disrupt sleeping patterns.

This often stems from the fact that when you’re trying to fall asleep, your mind is quiet and undisturbed, and this leaves plenty of room for intrusive thoughts and uncontrollable worries to swirl around your head.

These can be almost impossible to ignore and thus can make actually falling asleep quite a struggle. 

Then because the individual is running on a lack of sleep, it can make them more susceptible to negative emotions and less able to cope with the stresses of day-to-day life the following day as their physical, mental, and emotional functioning capabilities have been impacted. 

And according to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly all psychiatric problems involve some sort of sleep disruption.

They also state that those with chronic insomnia, such as the kind that can be brought on by anxiety, can then create a greater risk of developing a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. 

Another issue is that those with anxiety can then become even more anxious at night as they can develop sleep anxiety because they know their symptoms worsen just before bed. 

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Anxiety? (1)

How Sleep Apnea And Anxiety Are Connected 

There’s quite a lot of research that indicates that sleep apnea and anxiety are two connected conditions.

It’s believed that the two conditions are so closely intertwined because disturbed sleep can increase fatigue and stress which can aggravate anxiety. And anxiety can trigger and worsen sleep apnea. 

A 2014 study also found that the two conditions often co-exist together.

It found that individuals with sleep apnea tended to have higher symptoms of anxiety than those without, and those with severe sleep apnea were even more likely to have heightened anxiety.

The study also found those with sleep apnea were likely to not just have anxiety but a combination of both anxiety and depression. 

Another study that took place in 2019 also found similar results to the aforementioned study.

It found that anxiety disorders and depression were more prevalent in those with sleep apnea than those without it.

It also found that these disorders were more common amongst female participants in comparison to their male counterparts. 


The first step towards treatment for sleep apnea will be a diagnosis. You’ll need to speak to your doctor who will then be able to refer you to a sleep specialist where the severity of the condition will be determined. 

From there, you’ll be presented with a range of different treatment options.

One of the most popular is positive airway pressure therapy (PAP therapy) in which pressurized air will be blown into your lungs to keep your airways open thus preventing sleep apnea. 

You may also be offered a range of mental health therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat any anxiety. And mindfulness techniques or prescribed medications may also be encouraged. 

Final Thoughts 

Sleep apnea and anxiety are two very serious conditions that can really affect your day-to-day life, and what’s worse is that both conditions seem to aggravate the other.

This can lead to major disruption of daily life and can cause major stress for individuals. 

If you think that you are suffering from either sleep apnea or anxiety, it is vital that you speak with a medical professional so that they can help you take the necessary steps in terms of treatment.

That way, you’ll move towards a happier and healthier lifestyle. 

Clare McAfee
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