Do you have a problem getting quality sleep every night? Maybe you wake up feeling poorly, even after getting what you thought was a full night’s rest. Many people who’ve long suffered from unsatisfying sleep are often surprised when they finally get a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition defined be periods of cessation of breathing during the night while you sleep. You literally stop breathing to the point that your body reacts with a panic response that wakes you, disrupting your sleep cycle. You may gasp or choke as you wake, and this may occur multiple times through the night. Sleep apnea sufferers may have up to hundreds of apnea events during the course of one night—yet have no memory of waking. There are three types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send the proper signals to maintain breathing, but OSA is caused by physical factors, which can be corrected.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
OSA occurs when the throat muscles relax to the point that the airway becomes obstructed by the soft tissues of the throat. When the airway narrows or closes, you cannot intake an adequate breath and your blood oxygenation levels drop. When this happens, the brain sends a distress signal to wake you and reopen the airway. Often this awakening is so very brief that patients may have no memory of the event. This process may repeat 5-30 times per hour, continuing all throughout the night.
A common warning sign of sleep apnea is loud snoring, but how can you tell if your snoring also includes the cessation of breathing?
Signs of possible obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Feeling tired, even after a full night’s rest
- Morning headache
- Waking with a sore throat or dry mouth
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness during the day
- Depression or irritability
Partners may even notice you gasping or stop breathing in the night, if they are awake when you are sleeping.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone, and even children may be diagnosed with the condition. However, there are a number of factors that may increase your risk of having sleep apnea:
- Being overweight
- Being male
- A family history of apnea
- Neck circumference of 43 centimeters (men) or 38 centimeters (women) or more
- A narrow airway, sometimes due to chronically swollen tonsils or adenoids
- Nasal congestion, due to an anatomical problem or allergies
- Use of alcohol or sedatives
- Use of alcohol and other sedatives
What You Should Do if You Suspect OSA
The only way to know for certain whether your snoring also includes the cessation of breathing is to see a doctor and arrange for a sleep study. During a sleep study, you will be monitored and studied while you sleep. Your vitals, including breathing and blood oxygenation levels will be carefully measured to determine whether you suffer from apnea and which form of apnea is the cause.
How Sleep Apnea Can Kill You
Few (if any) people actually die from sleep apnea causing you to suffocate in the night; that’s not how it works. Instead, sleep apnea slowly affects your overall health because it prevents all your body systems from working optimally.
Scientists don’t fully understand the mechanisms by which sleep repairs and restores our body—but we do know that undisturbed sleep is necessary for good health. When you are constantly waking in the night, you do not get adequate REM sleep and your body and brain simply doesn’t function right.
Cognitive symptoms include an inability to focus or concentrate, and daytime sleepiness. If you have to perform repetitive tasks with heavy machinery or driving, your body may experience short periods of “microsleep” to compensate for the lack of sleep. It is now believed that many accidents have been caused by a person falling into a state of semi-sleep and not being aware of it.
Beyond microsleep, apnea leads to a number of serious medical health conditions. When you are not breathing properly, your blood does not get enough oxygen, which can affect all your vital organ systems. People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Liver disease
- Heart attack and stroke
What a Dentist Can Do for You
If you have mild to moderate OSA—or even just snoring—a dentist can provide you with an oral appliance that helps keep the airway open while you sleep. With very slight changes to the placement of the jaw, an oral appliance can adjust how your soft tissues are positioned and encourage the airway to stay unobstructed.
The most common medical approach to sleep apnea is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This system uses a face mask to deliver a continuous gust of oxygen that keeps the airway open when you sleep. However, this device does not always work for everyone, as it can be hard to adjust to or may not be compatible with your natural body position when you are sleeping.
If you have a snoring condition or have been diagnosed with OSA, talk to our dentists at Docklands Dental Studio to learn more about sleep solutions.
Spousal Sleep Syndrome
Another serious side effect of sleep apnea is what is referred to as spousal sleep syndrome. This means that your sleep breathing problems are so noisy and disruptive that they also lead to sleep deprivation problems for your partner. This can lead to relationship problems and symptoms in spouses, as well as primary sufferers.
Spouses of sleep apnea may experience all the same cognitive symptoms that characterize poor and interrupted sleep. These include irritability, inability to focus or concentrate, daytime sleepiness, and depression and moodiness.
If your spouse’s noisy sleeping habits have been a point of contention in your relationship, it may be time to discuss seeing a doctor!
Visit Us at Docklands Dental Studio
If you or your spouse is a loud snorer or has diagnosed OSA, visit our Docklands dental office and we’ll explain how an oral appliance may help you get proper sleep. Call us today at (03) 9021 9487 to make an appointment.
Docklands Dental Studio is easily accessible via trams from Melbourne CBD. Just take Tram Number 11 or 48 from Collins Street and get off at Collins Landing (Stop D17).
Also published on Medium.