top of page

The Differences Between Sleep Apnea And Insomnia

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Sleep Apnea and Insomnia are both common sleep disorders. Both of them affect a person's ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Although their signs and symptoms are similar, their treatment options differ. Sleep apnea occurs when a person's airways are either partially or completely obstructed during sleep. Insomnia is the name of the phenomenon where a person has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

In this article, we'll go over both sleep apnea and insomnia, their differences, and their similarities.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is when someone has difficulty falling or staying asleep. This condition can be short-term, lasting from a few days to weeks, or long-term, lasting from a month to multiple years. Short-term insomnia can be triggered due to traumatic events such as the passing of a loved one or anxiety-inducing events like upcoming exams or interviews. Long-term chronic insomnia may be due to a psychological illness and does not often present with an obvious answer. It can be caused due to major traumatic experiences as well, which result in PTSD.

Insomnia Symptoms

Insomnia generally presents with difficulty falling and staying asleep. However, due to this lack of sleep, many other symptoms start to develop, such as fatigue, inability to focus, irritable mood, sleepiness during the day, poor work performance, behavioral issues, and an increased risk for accidents.

Although symptoms of short-term insomnia may go away, it is important to keep in check with your doctor. If the cause of short-term insomnia is left untreated, it can result in long-term (chronic) insomnia. Once a person develops chronic insomnia, it can result in additional symptoms such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, obesity, and even drug abuse. Thus, it is important to curb the problem before it becomes chronic insomnia.


Insomnia is influenced by age, sex (women are more likely to develop it), occupation (night shift workers are more likely to develop it), family history, poor sleep habits, mental health issues, medications, pain issues, stress, anxiety, caffeine and other substances, benzodiazepine dependency, neurological problems, neurodevelopment issues, and finally due to sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea.


Discuss your symptoms with your physician, and once diagnosed with insomnia, they will provide you with possible treatment options. Treatments normally involve treating underlying causes by sleep specialists and therapists and prescription drugs to aid in falling and staying asleep.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used as a form of psychological therapy to combat the disease. It has been known to reduce insomnia in many patients regardless of their background. Thus, CBT is prescribed as the first form of treatment. At this stage, medications are not used. Through CBT, patients can identify what is causing them anxieties and stress and can work to replace stressors with healthier thoughts and attitudes.

If CBT alone is not enough, medications like benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines, melatonin receptor agonists, and orexin receptor antagonists are used. Some medications like benzodiazepines, are highly addictive, and misuse can further exasperate insomnia. Thus, it is important to respect these medications and properly discuss the side effects with your doctor.

Now that we have discussed insomnia let's discuss sleep apnea and draw a comparison between the two.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most prevalent and common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when the airways are either partially or completely obstructed during sleep. This obstruction leads to lapses in breathing during sleep which can make the patient wake up breathless and in a panic. Sleep apnea can lead to other health conditions like heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and more if left untreated.

Central Sleep Apnea, a less prevalent form of sleep apnea, occurs when the brain doesn't signal the muscles in the throat and mouth to make you breathe. This can be very dangerous. If unnoticed, one can pass out, as there is no respiratory effort during these lapses in breathing.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep apnea involves disrupted sleep, lapses in breathing during sleep, and does not allow the patient to get a good night's rest even if they do not wake up during the night. These sleep disturbances lead to the following symptoms: tiredness and sleepiness during the day, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, tiredness after sleep, morning headaches, and snoring.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to worse conditions like cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes, and cognitive impairment, which prevents users from using heavy machinery or driving. Although there are some similarities, it is evident that there are a lot of different symptoms between sleep apnea and insomnia.


Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with obesity, older age, alcohol, and substance abuse, smoking, using sedatives, snoring, and even sleeping positions like sleeping on your back. In children, sleep apnea is most commonly due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Central sleep apnea is associated with drug-induced apnea, where the brain stops sending signals to the body to breathe due to very extreme sedation, high altitude breathing, stroke, kidney disease, Cheyne-Stokes breathing, and neurological issues which affect the brain's ability to send signals.


The primary treatment options for sleep apnea include PAP (positive airway pressure) machines that create a positive pressure in the airways by forcing air inside of the airways past any obstruction, oral appliances that widen the mouth cavity reducing the chances of obstructions, weight loss, smart implants, treating underlying medical conditions, and surgeries to remove obstructions.

Insomnia vs. Sleep Apnea

At its most basic, insomnia involves difficulty falling and staying asleep, whereas sleep apnea disrupts sleep through repeated airway obstruction or a lapse in breathing. Their symptoms, causes, and especially their treatments differ significantly.

What Can You Do?

Talk to a sleep therapist from SleepRx. Get professional help from experts. Discuss your symptoms with our in-house specialists and opt for our home sleep study kit for your diagnosis.

SleepRx will provide you with all the resources you need to navigate through your journey with any sleep-related disorder, whether it's sleep apnea or insomnia.

bottom of page