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Dreams and Nightmares with Sleep Apnea

Surprisingly but true, the most common sleep disorders Americans suffer from – sleep apnea – can actually affect dreams. If you want to know further on the topic, don’t hesitate and continue reading this article to find out everything you need to know to understand sleep apnea dreams and nightmares.

Sleep Apnea Dreams

Getting a good night’s sleep with obstructive sleep apnea, especially with untreated one, is quite a challenge since your breathing is frequently interrupted while sleeping due to a blockage in the airway.

As a result, you wake up often and can’t go into the deep sleep stage called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. How’s this connected to dreams? – In fact, most dreams occur when a person is in the REM stage which helps you integrate emotional material into memory. In other words, dreams are only one way the brain interprets experiences from normal life.

What’s more, sleep apnea patients have different dreams from those who don’t suffer from the disorder. People with sleep apnea only experience fragments of dreams because they aren’t able to go into the REM stage.

Sleep Apnea and Vivid Dreams

Namely, if you experience vivid dreams, you’d better check whether you have sleep apnea since they are considered to be one of the side effects of the condition. When a sleep apnea patient manages to reach REM sleep, then intense dreams occur.

How to distinguish them? If a dream feels more like a reality than it is a vivid dream. They are extremely rare and can be both good and bad. But, they may also have other underlying triggers like stress and sleep deprivation in general.

Sleep Apnea and Nightmares

In severe cases, many, but not all, sleep apnea patients report experiencing nightmares. Since they aren’t getting proper treatment, they experience periods of not breathing in sleep as a result of low blood oxygen levels that signal danger to the brain.

As a consequence, those patients usually have nightmares about choking, suffocating, and dying. Some even have night terrors characterized by fear and anxiety while sleeping. When experiencing such dreams, a person may wake up feeling afraid without remembering the dream.

Sleep Apnea and Bad Dreams

When it comes to bad dreams and sleep apnea, the everlasting question is whether or not sleep apnea is the direct cause or there could be also some underlying causes. The truth is, anxiety, stress, negative emotions, mental disorders, hormonal changes, medications, late-night eating, etc. can be potential causes of nightmares. Plus, it seems that not all people are prone to experiencing nightmares. Some are, but some aren’t, which pretty much depends on the family history and genes.

Sleep Apnea and Dreams about Suffocating

As we already mentioned, sleep apnea patients who don’t get adequate treatment are quite likely to experience nightmares about choking, suffocating, and dying. This is mainly because dreams only interpret your daily emotions and experiences. So, if you struggle to breathe at sleep, the brain will interpret it like you’re being choked.

But, that’s not all! One of the common symptoms of sleep paralysis is choking. Those who suffer from this condition experience ‘chest pressure hallucinations’ which is a phenomenon characterized by feeling a weight on the chest that makes breathing difficult. So, if this is something you experience, it’s probably not sleep apnea but sleep paralysis.

The bottom line, regardless of the dreams you experience, make sure you get checked by a sleep specialist to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea. Once you get diagnosed, you’d be able to get proper therapy and have a better night of sleep.

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