Not only the cause of loud snoring and daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea comes with a myriad of other connections health issues—including having an effect on the way that people dream. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the stage of sleep in which people are able to dream. And people with sleep apnea have a tendency to get less of it.
In fact, the average person’s sleep cycles includes around 25% of sleep in the REM stages when they are able to dream. But people with sleep apnea only experience half (or less) of this REM sleep—around 10%. Because of limited ability to get into the REM stage of sleep, people who have sleep apnea may seem to have substantially fewer dreams.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
First of all, taking a look at sleep apnea may be helpful in understanding why it would particularly affect dreaming. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder in which the affected person stops breathing for extended periods of time during sleep. This often happens because the airways are blocked and the person’s brain has to start the body awake in order to get breathing started again. For people with mild sleep apnea, this may happen between 5 and 15 times per hour. For people with severe cases of sleep apnea, this may happen more than 30 times per hour.
Because of the continual interruptions to make the body breathe, the person with sleep apnea is unable to get into the deep, restorative part of the sleep cycle, REM sleep. When sleep is continually interrupted in order to restore breathing, oxygen is in short supply and the person ends up living with a barrage of various symptoms, including:
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with headaches
- High blood pressure
- Occasionally awakening with a sensation of choking or gasping for air
- Restless sleep or insomnia
- Inability to concentrate during the day, poor work performance
- Falling asleep during activity—especially driving
- Mood changes, irritability, relationship struggles
- Decreased sex drive
- Waking up with a very dry or sore throat
Sleep Apnea Bad Dreams
Although they don’t actually dream as much as people without a sleeping disorder, people with sleep apnea may actually remember more dreams than a person who does not have sleep apnea. This is due to the fact that the body is periodically woken up, and if the person happens to be dreaming at the time then they are more likely to remember this. And because the brain is often trying to wake the body up in order to get it to breathe again, any dreams that are currently happening may actually be very bad, scary dreams. This could have something to do with the fact that the brain is in distress trying to restore the oxygen supply.
Sleep Apnea Dreams Suffocation
One aspect of sleep apnea that many people seem to experience is dreams that include suffocation. This may be caused by the fact that a person with sleep apnea may be dreaming when the body is awakened due to the fact that they have stopped breathing. When this happens, the brain may trigger dreams about the inability to breathe which means that the dream is actually coming true. Many people with sleep apnea find themselves waking up with a sensation of choking or gasping, which may have translated from reality to dreams because of the brain’s distress.
Diagnosis and Treatment for People with Sleep Apnea
People who suspect that they have sleep apnea, no matter whether they dream or not, should seek medical attention from a doctor or sleep specialist right away. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that has been linked with many dangerous health problems such as heart failure, stroke, diabetes, atrial fibrillation and more. These conditions can affect not only your health but also shorten the span of your life.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea typically requires assessment in a sleep clinic. The good news for people with sleep apnea is that many non-invasive treatment options are available. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines, sleep position therapy (using special pillows or mattresses), losing weight, dental appliances, and other options are all worth considering when discussing your condition with your doctor.
Having bad dreams is just the tip of the iceberg when considering the problems related to sleep apnea. But the options for treating the condition and restoring you to a healthy sleeping pattern (and ultimately an overall healthy lifestyle) are valuable and should not be overlooked!
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