a detective woman looking an footprints on a path with a magnifying glass which lead to CPAP machine

Anxiety: A Clue to Sleep Apnea

Before my sleep apnea was diagnosed, I woke up most days with a physical tightness in my chest. That made me think anxious thoughts and I got depressed because I wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t see an end in sight. It was a vicious cycle that took years to unpick and resolve.

Living with undiagnosed sleep apnea

Like most women with chronic sleep conditions, my sleep apnea went undiagnosed for more than 10 years. The main symptom that bothered me, aside from being exhausted all the time, was anxiety.

My doctor treated me for anxiety with anti-depressants. I tried alternative therapies like acupuncture, medical herbalism, massage, and Ayurveda. I journaled, I had therapy, I read self-help books. Nothing made a difference, and I was still waking up with a pounding chest and a sense of impending doom every morning.

Exhaustion and anxiety in my 20s

My 20s were a never-ending cycle of exhaustion, anxiety, and barely holding down a job or keeping it all together. I often reflect now on how differently things would have gone if my doctor had asked questions around my sleep and energy levels and ordered a sleep study much earlier.

On first impression, I was an anxious 20-something in tears and overwhelmed. I know now that this is exactly what sleep apnea often looks like.

Running out of reasons

Looking back, I definitely explained away my anxiety and depression because of what I was going through at the time. I would think to myself, “No wonder I am depressed, my friend just died.” Then, “No wonder I have anxiety, my boss is the worst.”

My anxiety and depression became more of a puzzlement when my life looked up. I found myself married to a wonderful husband and in a job I enjoyed. I ran out of things to say in therapy. We already worked through my childhood, my trauma, my kids and ended up with awkward silences.

Diagnosis and treatment made a difference

Things changed for the better when my sleep apnea was diagnosed in 2008. I had a sleep study and I began treatment with a CPAP. My anxiety did improve with the CPAP. It wasn’t completely gone; anxiety is, after all, a complex condition affecting all aspects of life.

There is no doubt having uninterrupted sleep helped my mental health enormously. I particularly noticed my chest wasn’t pounding upon waking anymore. I no longer felt like I was being chased by a bear.

Appreciating the silver lining

A silver lining to my late diagnosis was the fact that I had already completed a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy course and discussed every bothersome issue in therapy. I had also incorporated regular yoga and meditation into my routine. Now when feelings of anxiety arise, I have a toolkit ready to go to help me navigate the overwhelm.

Pay attention to your symptoms

Anxiety seems to be everywhere these days but it can be a clue that someone is suffering with sleep apnea. It’s my hope that people pay close attention to their symptoms. If anxiety is accompanied by daytime sleepiness, brain fog, snoring, or any of the other common symptoms of sleep apnea, request a sleep study for further investigation.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SleepApnea.Sleep-Disorders.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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