Will Sleep Apnea Affect Dreaming?

Sleep Apnea, REM Sleep, & Dreaming

Dreams are created and derived from the brain, telling imaginative stories during sleep. They’re a collection of memories, pictures, ideas, and emotions. But for those with sleep apnea, your dreams could be compromised. 

Learn about sleep apnea, your REM sleep cycle, and how combining the two can impact dreaming.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing several times throughout the night. Common symptoms include excessive snoring, daytime fatigue, restless nights, headaches, and more. Sleep dentists like Dr. Sal Aragona provide snore guards as a comfortable snoring treatment to help you and your partner sleep soundly.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where the throat muscles relax while you sleep and create a blockage in the airway. 

The brain recognizes a lack of oxygen, and suddenly wakes you up to return to a normal breathing pattern. This can happen 30 times or more throughout the night, preventing you from getting a good night’s rest. 

Breaking Down Your Sleep Cycle

There’s two forms of sleep cycles: REM sleep, or rapid eye movement, and non-REM sleep, or NREM. 

During NREM, your body goes through three phases before reaching REM sleep:

  1. Your eyes are closed, but it’s easy to wake up.
  2. You’re in light sleep, where your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops.
  3. This is the deep seep stage. It’s harder to rouse you during this stage, and if someone woke you up, you’d feel disoriented for a few minutes.

In the deep stages of NREM, the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. During REM, your eyes move quickly in different directions, and you’re more likely to dream during deep sleep.

So, What’s the Connection?

We know sleep is essential, but why? Sleep gives your body time to rest and recharge, which is vitally important for your brain to cognize and recall. While you’re asleep, your brain processes information from the day and forms memories, and can also be transcribed into dreams. 

When you’re sleep deprived, there’s a higher risk of serious health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity — which are all consequences of untreated sleep apnea, as you’re commonly sleep deprived. To ensure you receive the best treatment, dentists like Dr. Michael Cooney provide various sleep apnea tests for a proper diagnosis.

Although sleep apnea can happen during any stage of sleep, It has been shown that OSA mainly occurs during REM sleep. Multiple sleep studies have reported that patients with sleep apnea can experience either intense nightmares or lower dream recall frequency. This suggests that OSA may suppress the cognitive experience of nightmare recall.

There’s little evidence of how OSA affects dreaming, but it’s concrete that people with this disorder can experience a number of health issues. Compared to NREM, REM with OSA has been linked with higher activity to the sympathetic nervous system and cardiovascular instability. Plus, OSA REM sleep disruption can result in memory loss similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

Tips to Help You Sleep Better

First and foremost, if you’re suffering from sleep apnea it’s important to seek professional treatment to help reduce or eliminate your symptoms. Sleep specialists like Dr. Kellye Rice provide a CPAP machine as the first line of defense, but also offer oral appliances as a more comfortable alternative. 

Along with proper sleep apnea treatment, here are some tips to help you sleep soundly through the night:

  1. Establish a sleep schedule–go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends!
  2. Exercise regularly, but at least three hours before bed.
  3. Create a calming sleep environment–make your bedroom dark and comfortable.
  4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before sleeping.
  5. Take time to unwind before going to bed–take a warm bath, read a book, drink non-caffeinated tea.
  6. Avoid using your phone, computer, or watching TV in bed.

By following these tips and getting the right treatment for your condition, you’re one step closer toward getting a better night’s rest.