How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Anxiety And Panic Attacks

As we approach the most stressful time of the year, the one thing that we all forget to do is to remember to breathe. Literally. Tension and stress causes a nervous system reaction that causes you to take short, shallow breaths, leading to carbon dioxide (CO2) retention. Interestingly, a recent study showed that increased levels of carbon dioxide has been shown to affect areas in the brain that triggers fear and panic attacks.


This makes sense since if you’re chronically oxygen deprived from not breathing at night due to sleep apnea, you’re going to build up carbon dioxide, which can increase the acidity levels in the amygdala, which is the area of the brain that processes fear and behavior. 


This biochemical reaction, along with generalized nervous system over-responsiveness that comes along with inefficient sleep, is a good reason for you to feel over-stressed, over-anxious, and on edge. I’ve also described a situation where your tongue suddenly collapses and obstructs your breathing, and you’ll wake up violently, in a state of panic, in a cold sweat, and with your heart racing. This happens much more commonly than you think.


This study makes me wonder what all the carbonated beverages are doing to us as a society.


What’s you’re take on this? Do you find yourself taking short, shallow breaths or even hold your breath when you’re stressed? Please enter your comments in the box below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

85 thoughts on “How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Anxiety And Panic Attacks

  1. I have been dealing with serious anxiety and depression that has disabled me for the last 10+ years. I have taken every medication available, had ECT treatments (electric wires connected to me intended to cause seizures), and years of therapy. Nothing has helped. I feel so hopeless and fearful that I will never get better.

    Then my husband decided to do a sleep study because he snored and held his breathe. I noticed this as I lay in bed at night unable to sleep. It was at this point that I began to research sleep apnea and came across the association between sleep apnea and anxiety and depression. I couldn’t believe that between all the therapists and doctors that I had been patients of (perhaps 15+), none of them had asked me anything about possibly having sleep apnea.

    My husband has long known that I snored so loudly that he would have to wake me up so that he could return to sleep. That is not the only indication that I may have a sleep problem. I have restless leg syndrome among other things. But never having been told about the connection, we never had reason to suspect…

    Now, I am scheduled to have my test in about 5 days. I will find out for sure whether I have sleep apnea. All indications are that I do. It is the first ray of hope I have had in years. I do not expect to be instantly cured, I only hope to receive some help as I get used to the CPAP machine. I know that I have issues to work on, but we may have finally found the answer to why nothing has worked, no matter how hard I tried to do all my therapists have suggested. There was something else wrong that kept me stuck and unable to get better. Seeing my doctors over the years has resulted in being sent home with another pill to the extent that the amount of medication I am presently on is immense. I have read that more medication only makes the sleep apnea worse. Hence, a vicious circle from which I could not escape.

    I feel that this is a wake up call for everyone I have worked with. I have suffered so much and so long. It all could have been shortened and helped with a simple question and test. It makes me want to cry. My husband has suffered along with me, trying to support me through it all.

    I am also concerned about others out there who may be going through the same thing. I want to help you by making you aware. If you have found it impossible to get help, please don’t hesitate to consider that you too may have undiagnosed sleep apnea. It may be the miracle you need.


  2. I am 29 years old I have never had anxiety and or panic attacks until about a year
    Ago I went to the doctor they said oh you have anxiety tried putting me on ssri like 3 different kinds before I finally said enough is enough I felt horrible so a couple weeks ago I went to yet another doctor that suggested sleep apnea could be the cause of me feeling like crap all the time so she’s setting up a sleep study for me hopefully it is the reason I feel super tired all the time and anxious for no reason I personally believe that every anxiety case has an underlying cause I ain’t a doctor just saying that every case of it cannot be a mental issue America is to fast to just put a label on people and frankly I think people are to quick to accept it I have been going through this for about a year and a half now and believe we are finally getting to the bottom of it

  3. I’ve had eye floaters for many years now, and last year I underwent laser removal surgery because I was so fed up with them. After surgery I was in excruciating pain for almost two weeks, and although it did clear up most of my floaters, I could still see like faint webs when I was watching TV or working on my computer.A few months ago, I developed some vision loss in my right eye. I now wonder if my vision loss was not due to floaters.
    What Helped Me the Most in Dealing with and Getting Rid of Eye Floaters(How to cure eye floaters if you are really annoyed with these like i was)
    I had eye floaters for a number of years and after using your system for a few weeks they cleared up completely. At first I thought that they might come back, but now I haven’t had them for 6 months.

  4. I wake up in a cold sweat and adrenaline pumping I feel like I’m in a panic mode heart beating fast what should I do

  5. Recently my mother age 59f is been diagnosed of panic attacks, as this is for the first time we came to know about this.she was hospitalised in icu for further investigation I.e ecg,2D echo, Triop (Blood & urine test) all the reports are normal. As she is suffering from OSA with obesity, diabetes & thyroid. She is using a Auto Cpap. Pls. Suggest us the best medication & further preventive measures Asap.

  6. My panic attacks start at night time and it always starts up bad after I am done in the bathroom. I start to hunch over like an old person. And I get all stiff and hyperventilate. My last one was really bad my sister told me to sit down on the couch and try to relax and she pushed me back and my legs went up too so I was as stiff as a board. My sister was trying to move my arms and legs to loosen them up but if she let go I just stayed like that. My sister pulled me up from sitting and she told me to walk to the front door and back but instead of turning around I opened the door and went to her car door and said unlock the car so we can go to work. And I also fell asleep a couple mins at the table before I went to the couch and I had no clue that I did that. But I was still breathing fast and shaking but after I was done I felt nausea and tired. I also suffer from epilepsy too. And I am on depression meds too along with my Cpap machine so what would u recommend I do?

  7. Nice to meet all of you. This site brings great hope and joy to me right now! Please read my story and let me know if you are/were going through the same things! My name is David and I am a 25 year old male who before a year and a half ago was perfectly normal and a gym rat. I worked out 6 days a week for 2-3 hours a day and ate extremely healthy. Below are my symptoms and diagnoses thus far.

    Symptoms: Light-headed 24/7, dizzy 24/7, frequent headaches, constant weakness feeling and numbness, eyes always hurt in the sun, easily irriated, constantly woke up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and daily diahrrea with IBS symptoms.

    Diagnosis: social anxiety over time, panic disorder with agoraphobia, mild sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome (RLS)

    Here’s my story. I was at work about a year and a half ago and was joking with a friend. He was telling a story and I just zoned out and had every symptom of a panic attack. This scared me since I had no idea what was going on. I made an appointment and my doctor sent me to cardiology for a stress test and I got to wear a heart rate monitor (to see if it was a heart condition or palpitations). Nothing was found so I went back to my doctor and decided to see a mental health provider. My first visit there, they said I had panic disorder with agoraphobia. I couldn’t deny this since all I could think about was how awful the panic attacks were. It basically consumed most of my time as that is what I focused my mind on. The recommendation was for me to be healthier and work out more…funny as I was in great shape and all of a sudden, I could not stay 10 minutes in the gym. I instantly felt like passing out. I am in the military and my run times kept going down since running seemed impossible. I could only maintain about 10 minutes of running and not even close to a pace I needed. I got on a profile for a while and continued to see the mental health department. After about 6 months of no improvement, I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist thinking maybe it was an inner ear problem. Nothing was found. Next, was the CT scans and blood work. Only thing found was high liver enzymes (due to my past years of drinking). Fast-forward through about a year of no help and constant anxiety every day, I complained about the terrible sleep I was having. I expressed that I would only get roughly 4-5 hours of sleep maximum and I was tired all the time. My eyes hurt when the sun was out and I zoned out non-stop at work looking at the computer screen. The sleep study showed I have Mild Sleep Apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome.

    I still have to go in for the second sleep study where they will set the limits of CO2 I believe on a CPAP machine and give me one. I am excited to see if I get the same results as many of you have. I would kill for 1 day with minimal anxiety/a restful feeling. I will keep you guys posted once I get my CPAP and hopefully my results are “I’m back to normal again!”

    Until then, take care, thanks for reading, and best of luck! Share your story with me as well please!

  8. I have been using a cpap machine for two months. I feel great. I love that machine. My wife couldn’t take the snoring anymore, so I had to go in for the study. I failed badly Oxygen level peak drop was 77.
    For the last 10-15 years I was becoming a little claustrophobic (airplanes) and have generalized anxiety disorder. Dr has me on 20mg celexa, all good. I began looking on the net for a correlation between anxiety/claustrophobia and sleep apnea. I think I am cured. I will ask the dr. if I can drop the celexa. I know that many have claustrophobic reactions to the face mask, not me. I love that cool air, soothing, good night charlie. male/57years/6ft/210lbs/17neck

  9. I don’t believe I have really slept more than 4 hrs in 2 years , rare exceptions. About 14 months ago I developed a fear of suffocating or drowning, I had no Idea where this had come from.
    6 Months ago I started to sleep less than 4hrs a day and it was decreasing.
    For the last 2 months or so I have been waking up, no wind feeling like I had held my breath for over a minute. This twice resulted in several 4-7 day periods where I would wake withing seconds of sleeping,in fear, adrenalin surging, having to get up and walk it off.
    Then someone loaned an O2 concentrator to me, I set it at 3-3.5, I live at 7,000ft., I can sleep on the couch easy enough but sleeping in my own bed now is difficult.
    Is it possible that having so many fear events there have caused this and what can I do? No I can’t move to a lower elevation but can sleep 2000 ft lower on the weekends.

  10. Hello, and in regards to my previous post.

    Sorry didn’t mean to be so short in that post. I have trouble asking for help.

    I am a Vet and am looking into help there but that could be months.

    I Can’t change where we live we own the home which we can’t move but live rent free because we manage the land for the owner. Our retirement plan hehehe.

    Thank you all for your time and patience.

  11. I have been on a Cpap for 10+ years
    Recently I have experienced serious shortness of breath followed very shortly by afib flutter
    I struggle with the machine breath every night and the shortness of breath continues
    Any suggestions
    New test?

  12. About four months ago I was driving to a job and i felt very faint, lightheaded. So I had to pull over and let one my crew members finish driving which was only about 3 miles. When we reached the destination I could barely stand up let alone do any work,. Very short of breath racing heart rubber like legs. I then asked if he would take me to the er asap, and the whole way there I thought i was going to die. After getting there and them running every test under the sun. They could not find anything wrong. However the doctor asked me if I have anxiety, and me not even knowing what that was really said no, so the subject was dropped and I was released.. About ten days later i was driving again and i started to feel lightheaded and dizzy again so I pulled over and had my wife and father come pick me and my vehicle up. I called my GP and made an appointment, which led to a echeocardiogram, and a MRI, which both came back perfect. And again anxiety was brought up as well as panic attacks. And for weeks I did not understand where this was coming from because I am a very healthy 31 year old man. However I for got to mention that my grandfather, the only grandparent I had mostly my whole life had died on November 10th 2014 and all this started happening on around November 23 rdish. I then began to realize that maybe I really did have anxiety. Last week i did an over night Sleep Test and they have concluded that i do have Sleep apnea and need to wear a mask every night o bed, because of blockage of Oxygen during sleep. Do you think that this could have brought all of this one out of the blue like that? Any insight would be wonderful..

  13. Even with my cpap , I find that just as I finally fall asleep I still wake up suffocating at the moment of sleep. Doctors look at me like I’m crazy . Sleep doctors scratch their heads. I’m on my last limb. Please please help me . 469 728 5995. Please

  14. I’m glad I stumbled onto this site. The information has been great.

    My question is about CPAP and medication. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and panic attacks about 5 or 6 years ago and I’m on Zoloft. This year I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension which they believe is caused by sleep apnea. I started using a CPAP machine about a week ago and I’ve noticed that I’m experiencing anxiety during the day. Do you think it is possible that with the increased oxygen and decrease of carbon dioxide that I might now be taking too much Zoloft?

  15. Heather,

    Sorry to hear. It’s difficult to say without seeing you along with your complete medical history, but sometimes, CPAP can aggravate anxiety, even though it may be helping with sleep. Your doctors are the best people to talk with about this issue. Good luck.

  16. Serapino,

    People have different responses to CPAP. Many people do much better after a number of trouble shooting steps. Others can’t use it no matter how hard they try. There are other options. Your doctor should be able to help.

  17. Jacques,

    Thanks for sharing. It’s hard to know, but the only way to know if it’s related is to continue using your CPAP machine for a few more weeks to months and see how it goes. Good luck.

  18. I wake up every morning with an anxiety attack. Lately I’ve been waking up earlier and earlier, taking Xanax, going back to sleep and the cycle starts again.
    Are you dealing with the same symptoms?
    The psychiatrist and therapist are resistant to refer me to a Hypnotherapist. Would a Neurologist be a better route to find out the brain/sleep/anxiety connection?

  19. Hi, Dr. Park:

    I realize you cannot give a strong opinion without seeing me in person, but I’d be interested in any feedback you can give anyway. In short, I am someone with a lifelong (since childhood; I’m 49 now) anxiety disorder, but I also discovered (about three years ago) that I have moderate sleep apnea. I have been using a CPAP machine (with variable pressure machine; goes up and down to match the pressure I need) since that time. However, despite the machine fairly consistently showing I have about 3 events per hour, I still have horrible sleep quality, waking up constantly, sometimes tear my mask off choking, sometimes waking up drenched in sweat, sometimes just feeling like I am awake every hour. My sleep doc, who I’ve seen I believe 3 times since starting, says the machine is working fine as it reads 3 events per hour. The last time I was in, I asked if I could do an in-house study (overnight in the hospital, as I only did the home study to get my original diagnosis), but he does not want to do that. I have been through all the SSRIs, SNRIs, benzos, a few anticonvulsants, and am pretty much left with MAOI inhibitors and antipsychotics as my last options for providing me some semblance of functionality. What I don’t understand is how I can get these fairly consistent readings of 3 events per hour, even though I feel like I am hardly sleeping at all.

  20. Sometime in middle of my sleep I wake up after 30 minute usually, with lack of Oxygen and my body kind of paralysed,
    Used to panic a lot before, I even went even to Emergency 4 times before 5 years ago.
    I used to drink I gave up because of reflux and panic attacks.

    Now when l wake up. I have paper bag and breath out in…
    until l feel fine then l drink water.

    If l feel bad, l drink much water and vomit acids or reflux or I poo.
    afterwards I feel fine,

    or l drink water and listen to Quran for meditation. and it helps.

    the Question. do I have breathing problem ? because I snore

  21. I have been using a v-pap for almost 3 years with not many, if any, problems after learning how to sleep with it, Last night i had a serious anxiety and panic attact, After waking up with rapid heart rate,I took off the mask. I decided to sit on the recliner, after dozing off for a few hours I went back to bed to try again but with same results.Any ideas? I have been doing so well with my v-pap BTW,, thanks,,,,V-PAP wearer,,

  22. I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea 12/16/15, my number was 14.5 which I’m told by the sleep clinic to mean every hour my breathing pauses/stops 14.5 times per hour, calculated out that is equivalent to 1 apnea episode every 4 mins, it may be considered on the border of mild and moderate but that ino is scarier enough let alone having been told I have COSA, I have my new CPAP macine, a Philips Resperonics, I’m having trouble with the masks, I have the full, the nasal Maslow and the Resmed Nasal Pillow. I take alprazolam as needed for anxiety and depression, since I started the cpap I have awoken 3 different times in a state of panic trying to pull the mask off, the air was set at 4, the highest at 10, I woke gasping and realized I was having a panic attack, very scary indeed!

  23. I was just diagnosed with sleep apnea. Haven’t yet started with the CPAP. My question is: Has anyone with sleep apnea noticed a decline in emotional well being and has it improved after starting CPAP? I am an emotional mess! I cry over the least little thing and feel a lot of depression. I’m hoping that the apnea is the root cause of this and that once I get my CPAP machine that I will improve emotionally. Thanks for any comments on this.

  24. Absolutely! I have been living with major panic for over two years now and was just diagnosed with Severe sleep apnea! I get panic attacks most every day and it is no wonder! I was told that I am struggling to breathe every 2 minutes during the night or 31 times an hour!

  25. I just had another panic attack with all the usual symptoms .I also have sleep apnea and use a Cpap every night for the past 15years .When I have a panic attract it is usually during a nap or during sleep I awake feeling first out of breath and straight into a panic attack .This has happened only a few times but is very scarey .I am thinking about being retested to confirm pressure setting on my cpap as my sleep patterns seem to have changed in the last year or so I am a 68 yr old male
    Ps.i have varied the pressure up from 10 to 12 with no change but returned to 10 because the higher pressure affected my ears any info will be appreciated

  26. Whenever I am in a bad mood or just a bit stressed light exercise always improves my mood
    (although it does this even if i’m in a good mood).

    I personally love yoga, but walking is great too.
    Especially since I can take my daughter along. I love reading, it tends
    to get me out of my head when I am stressed out.

  27. This happens to me even when I am using my sleep apnea machine. If I am stressed and go into a deep sleep I sometimes wake up violently I take my pressure and it is high and immediately start structured breathing and my pressure goes down within minutes of the episode to normal levels. However it is a frightening experience. Since I suffer with anxiety it is not unusual for me to exhibit shallow breathing sometimes I catch myself not taking breaths at all. So this nighttime experience is it more a product of sleep apnea or a nighttime anxiety attack.

  28. During my life, I have suffered from anxiety attacks but they always had to be triggered by something. But this past week, I have suffered anxiety without triggers every day and after meditating on my back this afternoon, I snored as I fell asleep and immediately got the impression that my sleep condition was to blame for the anxiety.

  29. Hello, doc. steven. I am in a tretament of GAD and using Bupropion and pregabalin.

    I was well and not dealing with panic anymother. However, I went throught some stressful days some time ago and some symptoms arised again, but I am able to control them using Cognitive tools.

    But I realize that i am holding the air during the day. I happens all the time. My doctor suspects of apena but this fact drawn my attention.

    Whats your opinion?

    Thank you!

  30. I have been on CPAP since 8/22 and still have anxiety and apprehension
    beginning at about 8PM nightly. My claustrophobia is a result of
    what happened in 2003 when I had brain surgery. It began in recovery room following my first surgery and then progressed following the second when I ended up in ICU (I had been discharged and then had a massive collapse. I was in ICU, MICU and six weeks of skilled nursing as they tried to stabilize me). I wish I could set aside the anxiety I feel every night. While I realize I NEED CPAP it is very difficult despite fact it has been almost 3 months now.

  31. I have copd and also use a cpap machine for sleep apnea (10 years). Almost every time I awaken from sleeping my skin and lungs feel like they are on fire. I can only put this heated feeling out by taking the mask off and getting up and moving around. I am convinced that this is caused by too much carbon dioxide build up from the cpap not letting me exhale properly. I think most people who have copd are done a great injustice when given a cpap vs. a bipap machine. I am ready to trash my cpap since I have not been able to get a sleep doctor to prescribe a bipap machine. Waking up like this every time I fall asleep cannot be doing my body and organs any good.