What Is the Difference Between Sleep Apnea and Insomnia?

Although both sleep apnea and insomnia are sleeping disorders and can affect anyone at anytime, they are very different and require different approaches for treatment. Here is an overview of each.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a physical disorder. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), the most common condition, results when relaxed soft tissue in the throat slides back and blocks airways, cutting off breathing. As a result, the brain jolts the body awake to reopen the airflow, disrupting sleep. In Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), a more rare condition, the brain malfunctions. When the airway is blocked, the natural reaction to jolt awake is hindered and the body completely stops breathing, not awakening immediately, but after a delay. CSA can be life threatening.


Insomnia has a very broad definition. In general, if a patient has trouble falling or staying asleep, they are diagnosed with insomnia. Because of this, insomnia can be its own sleep disorder, or a sign or symptom of any number of other diseases or disorders. As its own disorder, insomnia has three classifications characterized by how long the insomnia persists: Transient (a week or less), Acute (up to 4 weeks), and Chronic (any time over one month).


Because it is a physical disorder, sleep apnea is caused by physical conditions. OSA results from blockage that can be caused by lack of muscle tone as seen in older patients, people drinking alcohol or taking sedatives, or obese patients with excessive soft tissue. Those with CSA often have had congestive heart failure, stroke, head injury, or may develop it over time from years of suffering from OSA.

Insomnia’s causes truly run the gambit. When it is not a symptom of another disease, insomnia can occur from mental problems, especially stress or anxiety, hormonal shifts as in women during menstruation or menopause, environmental conditions such as noise or jet lag or abuse of over-the-counter medications or alcohol.


Finding the right treatment for sleep apnea or insomnia is based on the causes. Often both conditions can be relieved by living a healthier lifestyle. Eating well, maintaining a healthy weight and being active benefits sleep apnea sufferers as well as those with insomnia. The best solution is to see a sleep treatment specialist. Ultimately, a professional will be able to determine the underlying cause of the sleep disorder to guide you to the proper steps for overcoming it.

Learn more about how the Pillar Procedure cures sleep apnea, stops snoring, and allows you to get the great night’s sleep you deserve. Looking for effective snoring relief? You will find more information on the Pillar Procedure and various other treatment options and helpful tips on how to stop snoring at the Atlanta Snoring Institute website.