More people than ever are suffering from sleep disruptions and poor quality of sleep during this pandemic. It’s time to get answers — as there may have an underlying sleep apnea problem.

Sleep is an essential part of our daily routine, an important restorative process which helps maintain our overall health and well-being. We all suffer from a poor night’s sleep every now and then — but even more so during this pandemic.

In fact, the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic are leading to stress, anxiety, as well as sleep problems — a pattern that sleep specialists now refer to as “coronasomnia,” resulting in low-quality sleep. 

Sleep deprivation of this type can have a serious impact on our physical and mental health, as well as increase the risk of accidents, particularly while driving. High blood pressure, depression, and other health problems have been linked to chronic sleep deprivation.

Sleep Disorders and Low-Quality Sleep

What exactly is insomnia? Someone with insomnia finds it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. The condition can be a short-term one or more chronic, lasting for months. 

One of the major contributors to this sleep disorder is anxiety or stress, either brought on from everyday life situations such as work, or through the experience of a traumatic event — like the pandemic. Stress and sleep can often be found to have a cyclical relationship, with stress promoting poor sleep and poor sleep adding to stress levels.

Lifestyle and sleeping habits can also play a role in creating a sleep disorder. Our bodies closely follow a daily rhythm known as the circadian rhythm or body clock. A circadian rhythm which has become out of sync due to a change of routine can lead to sleep problems. A switch in routine — such as shift in work schedule or jet lag — can also lead to insomnia. 

Lifestyle changes that can help to improve sleep:

  • Don’t watch TV news constantly, as it increases anxiety
  • Avoid caffeine after noon, including tea and soft drinks
  • Get bright outdoor light early in the day, to reset your internal body clock
  • Exercise during the day, so you’ll feel tired and more likely to sleep at night
  • Relax with a warm bath or a good book before bedtime
  • Switch off the TV, tablets and cell phones before bedtime, as they all emit blue light, which can disrupt sleep
  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime, as it disrupts REM sleep
  • Avoid heavy meals late at night
  • Ensure the bedroom is designed for sleep, including a comfortable bed and cool room temperature
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern by going to bed at the same time each night
  • Quiet your mind with meditation, to enhance sleep
  • Use a fan or noise machine to serve as white noise while you sleep

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the sleep disorder sleep apnea. Those with OSA will wake up frequently through the night as their airways become blocked and the brain prompts the body to awake for air. 

The causes can often be physical, with weight being a major factor as well as a large neck size. Lifestyle factors such as smoking can also increase the risk of developing OSA.

A person with moderate OSA experiences 15 to 30 apneas (pauses in breathing) every hour, where their breathing ceases and they awake for air.  With severe OSA, breathing could stop twice that many times.   These frequent interruptions result in low-quality sleep and the excessive daytime fatigue associated with the disorder.

Insomnia + Sleep Apnea

While insomnia and OSA are two distinctly different sleep disorders, it’s possible to have both. The interruptions to sleep caused by OSA can result in longer wake periods for the insomniac. They will struggle to fall asleep again, compounding their sleep deprivation.

Physical and Mental Health Issues Affecting Sleep

Pain is another contributing factor to poor sleep. Any condition (like arthritis) which makes lying down to sleep painful or uncomfortable takes its toll on quality of sleep. This is the same with any respiratory condition which causes issues when trying to sleep. 

Medications prescribed for high blood pressure and asthma can also affect your sleep, while others may make you sleepy during the day and knock the body clock out of sync.

Pain can exacerbate any stress you may be feeling, leading to sleep troubles. Stress, anxiety, and depression can create serious sleep issues; it is estimated 40% of insomniacs have mental health problems like depression. Just like stress, difficulty sleeping can worsen the symptoms of depression and increase the risk of suicide.

Neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia can also impact the quality of someone’s sleep. People with these conditions have difficulties following the daily sleep-wake cycle as the body clock is affected, particularly if they sleep quite often during the day. Confusion experienced at night through dementia can also have an impact on quality of sleep.

The Effects of Low-Quality Sleep

Most of us will recognize feeling a little irritable and struggling to concentrate when we have a bad night’s sleep. However, for those with sleep disorders, this is further compounded — and can increase the risk for these issues:

  • Serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Memory issues
  • Increased risk of stress, anxiety and depression
  • Concentration issues affecting productivity
  • Increased accidents at work, home and in the car

Diagnosis and Treatment

A lack of sleep and fatigue can often be ignored as the by-product of busy lives. However, chronic fatigue should not be ignored — as sleep deprivation can increase the risk of serious health complications. 

Sleep apnea can be treated once diagnosed, helping reduce or eliminate the symptoms which impact on sleep. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea common symptoms include:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Loud snoring
  • Frequent awakenings
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Increased irritability

Home Testing for OSA

Getting tested is straightforward and Millennium Sleep Lab provides portable testing kits which are delivered direct to the home. The results are analyzed and if OSA is diagnosed, an appropriate treatment course can be recommended depending on the severity of the disorder. 

For moderate to severe OSA, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy remains a main treatment option, using a device to supply air to keep the airways open as you sleep.

Sleep disorders can have similar symptoms which may result in problems with diagnosis. This is why testing for specific disorders such as OSA is so key for targeting correct treatments. 

Insomniacs can often also have sleep apnea, which may go undiagnosed. Yet a home test for OSA will help a sleep specialist understand the cause of frequent awakenings at night — and lead to treatments that work for both sleep apnea and insomnia, as appropriate. 

Just imagine it — a great night’s sleep, every single night. The first step is a consultation with an MSL sleep specialist, and an at-home sleep apnea test.