Insomnia Vs Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Insomnia vs sleep apnea

Sleep disorders are a significant health issue worldwide, and Australia is no exception. These conditions, which impair the ability to achieve restful sleep, have far-reaching consequences on daily functioning and overall health. Among the various types of sleep disorders, sleep apnea and insomnia stand out for their prevalence and impact within the Australian population.

Prevalence of Sleep Disorders in Australia

Sleep Apnea: Characterised by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep, obstructive sleep apnea affects approximately 5% of Australians. This condition can lead to severe health complications if left untreated, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Insomnia: This condition, involving trouble falling or staying asleep, is even more widespread. An estimated 33% to 45% of adults in Australia experience at least one symptom of insomnia. Among these, about 10% to 15% deal with severe or chronic forms of the disorder. Insomnia can lead to significant daytime dysfunction, affecting concentration, mood, and overall quality of life.

The Impact of Sleep Disorders

Both sleep apnea and insomnia disrupt the natural sleep cycle, leading to poor sleep quality and quantity. This can have a profound effect on an individual’s physical health, mental well-being, and quality of life. The consequences of untreated sleep disorders extend beyond individual health, impacting productivity, safety (e.g., increased risk of motor vehicle accidents), and healthcare costs.

Differences of sleep apnea and insomnia
Symptoms differences between sleep apnea vs insomnia

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. This obstructive sleep apnea can lead to a decrease in the quality of sleep, making people feel tired or lethargic during the day. Understanding the causes and recognising the signs of sleep apnea are crucial for seeking appropriate treatments, which may include sleep apnea self-care, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), or even sleep apnea surgery. 

For those wondering how to cure sleep apnea, it’s important to note that while there’s no universal sleep apnea cure, treatments like maxillomandibular advancement or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty can be effective for some. A sleep apnea test, often involving polysomnography at a sleep disorder centre, is essential for a proper diagnosis.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  1. Loud snoring
  2. Episodes of stopped breathing during sleep
  3. Gasping for air during sleep
  4. Awakening with a dry mouth
  5. Morning headache
  6. Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  7. Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  8. Difficulty paying attention while awake
  9. Irritability


Insomnia, a sleep disorder that is widespread and prevalent, is a condition that persistently and continuously plagues millions of individuals across the globe, affecting people from all walks of life. Individuals who suffer from this debilitating disorder often find themselves struggling with the ability to fall asleep, maintain their sleep throughout the night, or in some unfortunate cases, both of these issues simultaneously. One of the most successful, effective, and proven methods of treatment for this particular sleep disorder is cognitive behavioural therapy that has been specifically and meticulously designed for the treatment of insomnia.

Symptoms of Insomnia

  1. Difficulty falling asleep at night
  2. Waking up during the night
  3. Waking up too early
  4. Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  5. Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  6. Irritability, depression, or anxiety
  7. Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
  8. Increased errors or accidents
  9. Ongoing worries about sleep


Both sleep apnea and insomnia can be diagnosed by a medical professional after a thorough evaluation of the patient’s medical history, physical examination, and sleep studies.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is diagnosed with a sleep study, known as nocturnal polysomnography, carried out at a sleep disorder centre. A home sleep test might also be an option for confirming sleep apnea.

Diagnosing Insomnia

The diagnosis of insomnia often begins with an evaluation of the patient’s sleep habits and a comprehensive review of their medical history. If necessary, a sleep study may be recommended to provide additional insight into the sleep issues being experienced.


Treatment options for sleep apnea vs insomnia
Treatment options for sleep apnea vs insomnia

For conditions like sleep apnea and insomnia, a range of treatments is available, including lifestyle changes and medication, to effectively manage symptoms and improve sleep quality.

Treating Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Treatment aims to keep the airway open during sleep to prevent these disruptions.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Weight Loss: Excess weight can put pressure on the airway, making it more susceptible to collapse during sleep. Losing weight can reduce this risk.
  • Quitting Smoking: Smoking can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the airway, worsening sleep apnea.
  • Limiting Alcohol: Alcohol relaxes the muscles of the throat, which can lead to airway obstruction during sleep.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy

  • How It Works: CPAP therapy involves wearing a mask that covers the nose and/or mouth. The mask is connected to a machine that delivers a continuous stream of air into the airway. This air pressure keeps the airway open, preventing apnea episodes.
  • Benefits: This is considered one of the most effective treatments for moderate to severe sleep apnea.

Oral Appliances

  • Types: These include mandibular advancement devices (MADs) and tongue retaining devices (TRDs). MADs work by pushing the lower jaw forward slightly, which can help keep the airway open. TRDs hold the tongue in a forward position to prevent it from blocking the airway.
  • Usage: Best suited for mild to moderate sleep apnea or for individuals who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy.


  • Purpose: Surgery may be recommended to remove excess tissue from the throat or to correct structural abnormalities that contribute to airway obstruction.
  • Types: Common surgical options include uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), maxillomandibular advancement (MMA), and tracheostomy, among others.

Treating Insomnia

Insomnia involves trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Treatments focus on improving sleep quality and quantity.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Insomnia

  • How It Works: CBT-I focuses on changing thoughts and behaviours that contribute to insomnia. Techniques include stimulus control, sleep restriction, and sleep hygiene education.
  • Effectiveness: CBT-I has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for insomnia, with benefits lasting well beyond the end of treatment.

Relaxation Techniques

  • Types: These include meditation, breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Purpose: The goal is to reduce physical tension and mental stress, making it easier to fall asleep.

Sleep Hygiene and Habits

  • Key Components: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding caffeine and screens before bedtime.
  • Importance: Good sleep habits can support other treatments and are a foundational part of managing insomnia.

Prescription Medications

  • Use: Medications may be used for short-term relief or for chronic insomnia when other treatments have not been effective.
  • Types: These include benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sleep aids, and antidepressants with sedative effects.

Medical Cannabis

  • Research: Some studies suggest that cannabinoids in medical cannabis may have sedative effects, potentially helping with falling asleep faster and increasing sleep duration.
  • Considerations: The use of medical cannabis should closely involve an appropriately qualified healthcare provider due to varying laws, potential side effects, and the need for more research.

Final Thoughts

Sleep apnea and insomnia, though distinct disorders, often intertwine in a complex relationship that can exacerbate the symptoms and impacts of one another. Sleep apnea, characterised by interruptions in breathing during sleep, can lead to fragmented and non-restorative sleep, thereby potentially triggering or worsening insomnia, which is primarily marked by trouble falling or staying asleep. Conversely, the stress and anxiety associated with chronic insomnia can aggravate sleep apnea’s severity by affecting sleep patterns and overall health. Recognising and understanding the nuanced interplay between these conditions is essential for devising effective treatment strategies that address the root causes and manifestations of each, thereby enhancing patient care and outcomes.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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