Over 22 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders which cause snoring, restlessness, fatigue, and an increased risk of health issues.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can impact all areas of your life. It has been linked to heart attack, stroke, and premature death.
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
The Symptoms of Sleep Apnea Decrease Your Quality of Life
One of the most common sleep apnea symptoms is loud, frequent snoring followed by lapses in breathing, waking up choking or gasping, frequent trips to the bathroom, and general restlessness.
Throughout the Day
Sleep apnea sufferers often wake up with headaches and a sore throat. Because the quality of your sleep is compromised, you may feel fatigued throughout the day and have difficulty concentrating.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause irritability, depression, decreased libido, and memory loss. It has also been linked to serious systemic health conditions including heart disease.
Certain Factors Could Put You at Higher Risk
You are at higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea if you:
- Are overweight
- Have a family history of snoring
- Are a smoker
- Are experiencing menopause
- Are of Black, Hispanic, or Native American descent
The disorder can affect men, women, and children of all ages.
There Are Three Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. It is caused by overly relaxed or enlarged throat muscles and large tonsils, adenoids, or a large overbite which cause narrow airways and restrict the flow of oxygen.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) is less common but much more serious. The condition is caused by a lapse in neurological activity, where your brain stops signaling your body to breathe. This can happen several minutes at a time, sometimes dozens or hundreds of time throughout the night.
Also known as mixed sleep apnea, complex sleep apnea is caused by a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Patients with complex sleep apnea do not respond to treatments for OSA alone. This type affects 15 percent of all sleep apnea patients.
Treating Sleep Apnea Can Improve Your Mental Well-Being
New studies have shown that depression decreased from 73 percent to 4 percent in sleep apnea patients after therapy.
"Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation..." -David R. Hillman, MD
How Can You Prevent Sleep Apnea?
Stop drinking and smoking.
Studies have shown a link between chronic drinking and sleep-disordered breathing. Doctors recommend quitting smoking because it can reduce your sleep apnea and prevent the onset of other health problems.
Studies by the researchers at the American College of Physicians (ACP) have indicated that weight loss is one of the most effective ways to improve the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Sleep on your side.
The American Posture Institute has found that obstructive sleep apnea is aggravated by incorrect sleeping posture. They recommend sleeping on your side to improve your breathing during sleep.
Both Your Dentist and Doctor Can Diagnose Your Condition
In most cases, a doctor or dentist can perform a formal diagnosis for sleep apnea. In order to determine the severity of your sleep apnea and prescribe the most appropriate treatment, they may order a sleep study at a special facility. During the study, a specialist will monitor your activity, movement, oxygen levels, and other vitals.
Your level of sleep apnea will depend on the number of episodes you have during sleep:
- 0-5 per hour: Normal
- 5-15 per hour: Mild
- 16-30 per hour: Moderate
- 31 or more per hour: Severe
Many dentists can also let you borrow a device such as a WatchPAT, which allows you to track your sleep patterns in the comfort of your own home.
Treatment Will Depend on the Severity of Your Sleep Apnea
Oral Appliance Therapy
If you have mild to moderate sleep apnea, you may be a good candidate for oral appliance therapy. Your dentist can design a custom mouthpiece that fits snugly over your teeth and repositions your lower mandible to a forward position during the night, opening your airways and reducing snoring. The treatment can be very effective, even for patients with more severe sleep apnea.
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or CPAP, is the most effective way to reduce moderate to severe sleep apnea. CPAP patients will wear a mask during sleep which delivers positive airway pressure to open their airways. However, the device takes some getting used to, which can affect the patient compliance.
Combination of Both
Combining oral appliances and CPAP machines is well-tolerated by most patients. A study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that combination therapy reduced daytime sleepiness and normalized breathing disturbances.
If excess tissue, large tonsils, or enlarged adenoids are blocking your airway, surgery may help. During the procedure, a surgeon can remove the excess tissue and increase your chances of a healthy airflow.
Talk to a Doctor
The sooner you seek out treatment, the sooner you can sleep better, improve your overall health, and enhance your quality of life. To find out if you are one of the millions of Americans suffering from sleep apnea, schedule a consultation with your doctor today.