Opioids and Sleep Apnea

Opioids and Sleep Apnea

Opioids and Sleep Apnea

Although sleep apnea is typically thought of as a single health concern, there are various forms of the condition. Obstructive sleep apnea disrupts sleep and breathing as a result of a collapsed airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain and body do not communicate properly and breathing periodically stops or becomes shallow. All forms of apnea can be considered chronic, but obstructive sleep apnea is a mechanical or physical problem, while central sleep apnea is the result of neurological miscommunication. Certain actions and activities, such as opioid use, can contribute to the development of any form of sleep apnea in California residents.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea and Opioid Abuse

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, symptoms of all forms of apnea include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Headaches
  • Restless sleep

Individuals with central sleep apnea may also have trouble swallowing and feel weak or numb. These symptoms mimic opioid abuse effects such as drowsiness and headaches. Californians who are misusing opioid drugs may not realize they are also experiencing sleep apnea, as the symptoms may go undetected or be ignored as a side effect of drug use.

The Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Opioid Abuse

Opioid use contributes to all forms of sleep apnea. A study published in Pain Medicine found that 75% of patients taking opioids for pain management experienced some degree of sleep apnea, and, “39% had obstructive sleep apnea, 4% had sleep apnea of indeterminate type, 24% had central sleep apnea, and 8% had both central and obstructive sleep apnea” (“Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Chronic Opioid Therapy” 2007). Three-quarters of patients taking medical doses of opioids experience sleep apnea, and increased opioid doses and opioid abuse contribute to an even greater likelihood of sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea and Opioid Abuse

Individuals using opioids do not have to already be susceptible to or suffering from sleep apnea to experience the sleep-disrupting effects of these drugs. Chest explains, “opioid analgesics can precipitate central sleep apnea in patients…who otherwise show no evidence of central sleep apnea and have no cardiac or neurologic disease that would predispose them to central sleep apnea” (“Central Sleep Apnea Induced by Acute Ingestion of Opioids,” June 2008). Opioid use affects breathing and communication between the brain and body, and the results of this are difficult to treat. Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated through exercise, cessation of drug use and the use of a CPAP machine, but central sleep apnea is neurological in cause and requires alternative forms of treatment. Ending the use of opioids and other drugs that depress the central nervous and cardiovascular systems will typically improve sleep apnea symptoms, but some may continue even after drug use ends.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

If you or a loved one struggles with opioid abuse and fatigue, we are here to help. Our admissions coordinators can provide a free assessment that will allow them to connect you to the best treatment resources for your unique situation. We can help you find integrated treatment that will address drug abuse or addiction and any co-occurring sleep disorders or physical health concerns. We are here 24 hours a day and all calls are confidential, so please don’t wait to take action. Begin recovery today.

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