Double Whammy: Sleep Apnea and Insomnia
Last updated: February 2023
Having some difficulty falling asleep is pretty common and may fluctuate throughout your lifetime. This can be especially true during times of increased stress and anxiety. COVID-19 may have been the epitome of this for many people. This is my experience with sleep apnea and insomnia.
However, when this persists more than just randomly, it can greatly affect one’s life. For those of you reading this, there is a high likelihood that you also have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A combination of OSA and difficulty falling asleep can be very hard. I am writing this to share my experience with insomnia and OSA and a few of the techniques that have helped me throughout the years.
Coping with sleep apnea and insomnia
In the early stages of my sleep apnea diagnosis, I had absolutely no problem falling asleep at night (or at the kitchen table during my work). I was completely exhausted that I would fall asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. However, this is not the case lately.
I have been struggling with insomnia 6 to 7 nights a week for the past few years. I lay in bed for about 4 to 5 hours tossing and turning before I am able to finally fall asleep. Then, when I wake up because of my OSA, it takes me another 2 to 3 hours to fall back asleep. I finally fall asleep about 30 minutes before my alarm goes off. Every morning feels as though I just went to sleep about 10 minutes ago!
Practicing sleep hygiene techniques
Sleep hygiene is something that I have begun to focus on more throughout these recent years. There are many sleep hygiene tactics that I practice in my daily life.
I reduce my screen time (phone and TV), I do not drink caffeine too late in the afternoon, I make sure that I don’t spend time in my bed during the day so that my mind assumes it is for sleeping, and I try to make sure I exercise each day to rid my excess, anxious energy.
Despite how great these are, they only make a small difference for me. I know that they are helpful for a lot of people, but I always felt that there was something more that I could be doing.
Rediscovering mindfulness techniques
Even with all of these sleep hygiene techniques, I still remain awake for hours each night. Throughout my most recent clinical experience, I have rediscovered mindfulness techniques. I have recently integrated these techniques into my nightly routine.
I have found them to be helpful and I have described below the short sequences that I often flow through when I am lying awake in an effort to calm my mind and body.
Progressive muscle relaxation
I start at my toes and go up to my face tensing and releasing each muscle. I hold the tension for about 3 to 5 seconds and then relax each muscle. I move through my body slowly, making sure I move with intention. This practice allows me to notice tension and stress that I am holding in various parts of my body and then release it. It requires me to be present and focus my attention on my bodily awareness.
I bring my awareness and attention into each inhale and exhale making sure that each lasts at least 3 seconds. I hold the inhale for 3 seconds and then slowly release. This helps me bring awareness to my breath and try to push other thoughts aside.
Trying to calm my racing thoughts
I recently read in The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (2014) that if you are able to be in the moment and notice your breath, then you know you are in the present. You are unable to feel your breath in the past or in the future.
I thought this was such a powerful idea because my mind is always racing with what if’s in regards to both my past and future. But, I need to be more present in the moment in order to calm those thoughts and be able to sleep a little bit each night!
Does anyone else experience sleep apnea and insomnia and have any strategies that work well for you? Please share in the comments below!
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