CPAP Usage and Dreaming – Is There A Correlation?

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Vivid Dreams?

If you’re an adult experiencing frequent bad dreams, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 2-8% of adults experience nightmares. Many people with sleep disorders report a range of issues related to dreams. But can sleep apnea cause vivid dreams or even bad dreams? Yes. In fact, numerous research studies have identified a correlation between sleep apnea and vivid dreams as well as nightmares. Left untreated, sleep apnea dreams can easily turn into sleep apnea nightmares. Here’s what you need to know about sleep apnea and dream recall, and the types of sleep apnea dreams most reported. 

First, let’s take a look at how sleep apnea dreams may happen. Sleep has two distinct phases. Non-REM sleep accounts for about 75-80% of sleep. For the majority of adults, about 20-25% of sleep should be the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of deep sleep. Dreaming is most often associated with REM sleep. When a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea is present, the REM stage of sleep is frequently interrupted, if it occurs at all. It’s the episodes of apnea that can result in sleep apnea nightmares.

Reports of sleep apnea nightmares include dreams centered on feelings of suffocation, choking, and drowning. These types of dreams are generally believed to be the brain’s response to oxygen deprivation and the sensations associated with the collapse of the airway during non-REM and REM sleep phases. It’s your brain telling you to wake up and breathe! Increased levels of daytime anxiety and depression are just a few of the negative effects of sleep apnea and nightmares. Sleep apnea dreams and frequent nightmares are just one reason why seeking diagnosis and treatment for sleep disorders is so important.

A recent research study found that 91% of patients experiencing sleep apnea nightmares who used CPAP during sleep reported that their nightmares had disappeared, versus just 36% in patients who refused CPAP treatment. On the other end of the spectrum, less frequent dreaming can also be a side-effect of obstructive sleep apnea. This is likely due to the frequent waking and fragmented sleep cycles associated with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea and dream recall also have a correlation. A recent research study indicates that having trouble remembering dreams could be caused by sleep apnea. Researchers found that just 43.2% of people with sleep apnea remembered their dreams compared to 71.4% of those without sleep apnea.

In closing, sleep apnea is just one possible cause of nightmares in adults. Bad dreams can also be caused by some medications, trauma, or stress, just to name a few. Seeking a proper diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders can help turn bad dreams and full-blown nightmares into sweet dreams and better sleep.

Book a consultation with a sleep specialist today.