Let’s Talk Sleep Apnea - 6 Facts
Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that results in the cessation of breathing during sleep. Mild sleep apnea might result in shallow breathing, but it’s also common for breathing to stop completely. These breaks from normal breathing can last anywherefrom a couple of seconds to a few minutes. This is a serious problem that can, in extreme cases, be fatal.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, approximately 50 - 70 million Americans have some sort of sleep or wakefulness disorder, and 12 - 18 million of these peoplesuffer from sleep apnea. Diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea is essential for maintaining good health and avoiding serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, chronic acid reflux and erectile dysfunction.
A sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment plan can include a number of doctors across various specialties, and can even include your dentist. Here are six facts about sleep apnea that might surprise you.
1. Three Types of Sleep Apnea
When it comes to classifying sleep apnea, there are three primary types:
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – The most common form of sleep apnea, OSA occurs when the muscles of the throat relax and interfere with breathing. These breathing disturbances can cause a person to stop breathing hundreds of times over the course of the night.
Central sleep apnea – This form of sleep apnea is tied to the central nervous system and occurs when the brain is unable to send the right signals to the muscles that are responsible for managing breathing.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome – Also called “mixed” sleep apnea, this rare form of sleep apnea is actually a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. When patients suffer both forms, they are classified as having complex sleep apnea syndrome.
2. It’s More than Snoring
Although snoring is a sign of obstructed breathing, it does not necessarily signal obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring suggests that the airway is not completely blocked. During OSA episodes, breathing can stop completely. People who suffer from sleep apnea often have loud snoring as symptom, but snoring is not always symptomatic of sleep apnea.
If your snoring is coupled with other symptoms of sleep apnea, you should visit your doctor and/or a sleep specialist to determine whether or not sleep apnea could be the root cause.
3. Symptoms include…
There are a number of signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, some of which may be noticed by family members before you’re even aware they exist.
- Loud snoring
- Gasping for air or choking during sleep
- Memory problems
- Dry mouth and throat in the morning
- Mood swings / personality changes
- Frequent urination throughout the night
- Lack of focus throughout the day
- Headaches in the morning
If you or a family member is displaying signs or symptoms of sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible for a thorough examination.
4. The Cardiovascular Connection
The cessation of breathing associated with sleep apnea can cause a number of cardiovascular problems. These problems are rooted in the lack of oxygen in the blood that results from periods of slowed or stopped breathing.
Cardiovascular conditions associated with sleep apnea include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
5. Age Isn’t Everything
One relatively common misconception holds that sleep apnea is tied to age, meaning that it only affects the elderly. Granted, sleep apnea is far more common among people age 40 and older, but it can affect people of all ages.
OSA that affects children is most often caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids blocking the airway during sleep.
6. Self Help Helps
If you suffer from sleep apnea, there are a number of things that you can do to help yourself get a better night’s sleep.
Lose weight – People who are overweight are more likely to develop sleep apnea. Even shedding a small amount of body fat can help lessen the effects of sleep apnea.
Stop smoking – Studies have found that smokers can be up to three times more likely to develop OSA than non-smokers. The respiratory stress caused by smoking can exacerbate OSA symptoms.
Sleep on your side – If you sleep on your back, gravity can make it easier for tissue to settle and block your airway. Try switching to your side to help open up your airway.
Try a mouthpiece – The solution to your OSA concerns might be as simple as a basic dental appliance for when you’re asleep. Speak with your dentist about mouth guards available for the treatment of OSA. A custom mouth guard could better position your jaw and tongue, helping to keep your airway open during sleep.
If none of these self-help tips seem to be helping you get a good night’s sleep, or if your condition worsens, you should speak with a doctor, dentist or sleep specialist as soon as possible. There are other treatments that can be suggested, such as a CPAP machine (which provides continuous positive airway pressure) to assist with breathing, or surgery to correct the problem permanently.