The Relationship Between Dreams and Sleep Apnea

The Relationship Between Dreams and Sleep Apnea

Do you ever wonder why some people seem to have perfect recall of multiple dreams per night while others have no memory whatsoever? If you’ve ever heard someone say, ‘I don’t dream’, you probably realize what they really mean is ‘I don’t remember my dreams.’ After all, if you don’t dream at all, you would likely have a number of mental issues as it would mean you never enter into a deep sleep. However, it is quite possible that some people dream more than others and that their recall of their dreams is also better. Why? One of the answers could be related to obstructive sleep apnea.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects nearly 18 million adults in the United States with one of every 15 people having symptoms of the disorder. Those with obstructive sleep apnea have repeated episodes of partial or complete airway obstruction in the upper airway. This causes them to wake up multiple times per night and results in symptoms such as excessive snoring, cognitive-behavioral issues, unusual sleep positions, and excessive daytime fatigue.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Dreams?

If you can’t remember your dreams, it’s possible that sleep apnea is the reason. A study recently found that only 43.2 people with sleep apnea remembered their dreams compared to 71.4 of those without sleep apnea. Why is this? Many sleep experts believe that sleep apnea disrupts REM sleep, the deep sleep you need to achieve to dream. REM stands for rapid eye movement and it refers to the back and forth movement your eyes make behind your eyelids when dreaming. If you are repeatedly woken from sleep by obstructive sleep apnea, you may only rarely fall into REM sleep and therefore have fewer dreams than those who sleep through the night without any disruptions.

Sleep Apnea and Nightmares

Even if you have obstructive sleep apnea, you’ll likely still have at least some dreams. However, they may take on a more nightmarish quality. There are a few theories about why vivid nightmares are common for those with apnea. The first is that those with apnea are experiencing a lack of oxygen. This can affect the quality of dreams and it can also make its way into dreams in symbolic and disturbing ways. Common types of nightmares for those with apnea include dreams about strangulation and choking, dreams about trying to breathe while underwater or in space, and dreams about clogged pipes and being stuck in a an elevator. Sleep apnea sufferers also reported that these nightmares could have significant negative impacts on their days after they woke from them. Daytime anxiety and daytime depression are commonly experienced by those with sleep apnea who experienced vivid nightmares.

Improving Sleep Quality

If you don’t recall any of your dreams or if you commonly have nightmares about choking or being unable to breathe, you should get screened for sleep apnea. If you do have the disorder, there are a variety of treatments available such as using a CPAP machine, changing your sleeping position, avoiding certain medications before bed, and changing your lifestyle. One of the most effective treatments for those with obstructive sleep apnea is a simple oral appliance that helps keep your airway open throughout the night. The device is not bulky or invasive and can dramatically improve your quality of sleep and your overall health.

Do you think you have a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea? Fill out this screening form today to find out and learn the next steps!

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