ptsd brain collage

PTSD Linked to Sleep Apnea

PTSD and sleep apnea are linked according to a study done that involved military veterans. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder affects hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. Those people, consequently, find it difficult living a normal life.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

ptsd brain collage

A traumatic life experience, or witnessing a traumatic event can lead to ongoing effects. As a result, PTSD sets in. Events include:

  • Terrible accident
  • Unexpected Death of a family member or friend
  • War
  • Natural disaster
  • Sexual Assault
  • Physical Assault
  • Witnesses of any of the previous examples

Brains handle the aftermath of these events in different ways. Reactions include:

  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Guilt

More often than not, these feelings will dissipate and eventually go away. But, a person that develops PTSD will find it difficult to rid themselves of the symptoms, and they could increase in severity. So much so, that they keep that person from living a normal life.

Main Categories of PTSD

  • Avoiding: This person may avoid people, places, situations or thoughts that remind them of the trauma that they incurred. Secluding themselves like this leads to feelings of isolation, detachment, as well as loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
  • Excessive Emotion: People with this issue will begin to show signs of increased irritability, trouble concentrating, difficulties falling asleep, being in a “startled” state, and some physical issues.
  • Mood and Cognition: These PTSD sufferers experience thoughts and feelings that relate to blame, estrangement and bad memories of the trauma.
  • Flashbacks: PTSD people that suffer this fate will experience thoughts and memories that “relive” the event. They will include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea collage

OSA is a sleep disorder that causes you to halt breathing multiple times throughout the night. Each episode is known as an “apnea.” Each apnea causes the blood-oxygen level in your body to drop below normal levels, as a result, leading to more serious issues…

Long-term OSA Complications

  • Heart disease: Sleep apnea interferes with how your body takes in oxygen, therefore making it hard for your brain to control how blood flows throughout your body.
  • High Blood Pressure: When you wake up often during the night, your body gets stressed. As a result, your hormone systems become abnormal and boosts your blood pressure levels.
  • Obesity: This cause is a two-way street. OSA can cause the body to pack on excess weight due to stress, lack of proper sleep, and abnormal hormone levels. On the other hand, being overweight is a common factor that leads to developing OSA. (Case in point…eating healthy and exercise is important either way!)
  • Type 2 Diabetes: OSA is a very common problem for type 2 diabetes patients. There is no direct, proven link between the two; but interrupted sleep causes the body to use insulin incorrectly, therefore leading to diabetic issues.

Signs and Symptoms of OSA

  • Loud/excessive snoring
  • Waking up in the night gasping, coughing or choking
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep (observed by others)
  • Insomnia
  • Morning headaches, due to lack of oxygen
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Loss of memory
  • Decreased libido
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Vivid dreams followed by waking out of breathe
  • Felling drowsy during minimal activity

PTSD and Obstructive Sleep Apnea are Linked

A study was conducted to see what impact Post traumatic stress disorder has on sleep apnea, if any. The study consisted of 195 veterans that had tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. The study found a definite correlation between PTSD and sleep apnea…

“‘About 69% were at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea, and the risk rose along with PTSD symptom severity’, the study authors said.”

“Every clinically significant increase in PTSD symptom severity was associated with a 40% increase in being at high risk for sleep apnea…”


  • Ambardekar, Nayana MD. “7 Ways Sleep Apnea Can Hurt Your Health.” WebMD, WebMD, 16 May 2018,
  • Ambardekar, Nayana MD. “7 Ways Sleep Apnea Can Hurt Your Health.” WebMD, WebMD, 16 May 2018,
  • Foundation, National Sleep. “The Connection Between PTSD and Sleep Apnea.” National Sleep Foundation,, 2018,
  • Friedman, Matthew J, et al. “PTSD and Sleep.”, 2016,
  • Lamplugh, Mark. “PTSD.”, 2016,
  • Lettieri, Christopher J., and Scott G. Williams. “The PTSD-OSA Paradox: They Are Commonly Associated and They Worsen Outcomes, but Treatment Nonadherence Is Common and the Therapeutic Effect Limited. What Are Clinicians To Do?” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Jan. 2017,
  • “Study Finds High Risk of Sleep Apnea in Young Veterans with PTSD.” American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers, 7 Nov. 2017,

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.