What Are Differences Between Insomnia And Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Man in bed eyes opened suffering insomnia and sleep disorder

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a term for chronic inability to obtain restful sleep. It can present in various ways:

  • Sleep onset insomnia is when it is difficult to fall asleep during the night.
  • Sleep maintenance insomnia is when there is trouble remaining asleep.

Both forms of insomnia can present on their own – as a primary disorder – or result from some other sleep disorder. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis in order to receive tailored care.

What is Sleep Apnea?

In sleep apnea, breathing is interrupted during sleep. This can lead to lack of restful sleep.

Symptoms of Each Condition

Symptoms of Insomnia

  • Difficulty sleeping which persists for two weeks or more or interferes with functioning.
  • Daytime drowsiness, which may make it difficult to concentrate or complete tasks.
  • Headache.
  • Irritability.
  • Depression.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • Snoring or episodes of loud breathing that can be obvious to a bedroom partner.
  • Episodes of “micro-waking” that can disturb sleep and create less restful sleep.
  • Nightmares and other signs of sleep deprivation (excessive lack of restful sleep.)
  • Snoring, snorting, or other sleep disturbances, often so loud they may wake you.

A wide variety of less common symptoms may also occur. Some of these include dry mouth and throat, fatigue, headache, low mood, irritability, weight gain, and even depression.

Causes of Each Condition


Insomnia can happen all on its own or might be caused by a wide range of more severe medical problems. Many people who experience long-term insomnia have an underlying issue to treat.

Some insomnia sufferers have anxiety or another mental health condition that interferes with sleep, including anxiety about sleeping. Insomnia can also have neurological or physical causes.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea generally appears in one of two forms, obstructive and central.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition that can start at any age. Soft tissue obstructs the airway during sleep once the body relaxes. It is usually found in the mouth or throat. In certain sleep postures during the night, breathing is interrupted and you may awaken.

Central sleep apnea is caused by interference in brain functions that regulate breathing during sleep. It is relatively rare but should be considered if obstructive sleep apnea is not present.

How Are They Diagnosed?


Insomnia can often be self-reported by the patient. If you suspect insomnia, your doctor may ask you to maintain a sleep journal for about a month. You’ll record your sleep and wake times, the level of sleep disturbance you feel, and how rested you were in the morning.

An overnight sleep study is the best way to determine the root cause of insomnia.

Sleep Apnea

Patients can often have sleep apnea for months or years without realizing it. Some symptoms can be discovered through observation, but again, an overnight sleep study is the best diagnostic tool.

In a sleep study, the patient is outfitted with special equipment that gathers a wide range of data about the body before, during, and after sleep. This allows a trained physician to pinpoint any problems that arise throughout your physiology at night.

Treatments for Each Condition

Insomnia Treatment

Treatments for insomnia depend on the root cause of the condition. While lifestyle changes may work for some sufferers, others may require medication to help them fall asleep and stay asleep.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Obstructive sleep apnea can usually be resolved through surgical intervention removing soft tissue from the airway. A specialized mouth guard sometimes eliminates the problem without surgery. Central sleep apnea often requires medication.

For expert sleep care, contact Eos Sleep Diagnostics.

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