What is sleep apnea?
OSA causes your breathing to stop momentarily while you sleep. During these episodes of interrupted breathing, your blood oxygen level drops. This drop in blood oxygen causes your brain to awaken and resume breathing.
Although you most likely are not conscious of these episodes, and may not remember them in the morning, they can disrupt your sleep.
Sleep apnea is often classified by its severity. This is based on how often your apneas occur and how low your blood oxygen level goes.
Being awakened continually throughout the night can make it very difficult for you to reach and remain in the deeper stages of sleep that are important to physical and mental rejuvenation.
There is no doubt that snoring is a nuisance for you, and for your partner. It can drive couples to fight and even lead them to sleeping apart. However, for some people, snoring is more than just a nuisance. It is a sign of a dangerous, potentially deadly condition, known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA is a disorder that disrupts your sleep, preventing you from getting the rest your body and brain need to recharge properly. OSA can lead to serious mental and physical health problems, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Relationship problems
- Weight gain
- Safety risks
What causes sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is divided into two types: central and obstructive.
- Central sleep apnea occurs due to a neurological condition: your brain stops telling your lungs to breathe
- Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles that hold the airways open relax too much, leading to the collapse of the airways
OSA is a very common condition. In fact, about 2 million Canadians suffer from this form of sleep apnea. Although most people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are overweight men in their 50s or older, it can affect anyone.
OSA is also associated with TMJ. Because the tissues of the airway hang on the jaw for support when the muscles relax, a poorly aligned jaw can increase the likelihood that the airway will close during sleep.
Symptoms of OSA
Snoring is one of the most common signs of OSA. Before the airway constricts completely, it narrows, leading to turbulent airflow and vibration of the soft tissues, which creates snoring.
Most often, the snoring of an OSA sufferer will be interrupted and punctuated with gasping or choking, but there are many other symptoms of sleep apnea:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Waking with a headache or a feeling that you got no rest
- Lack of concentration or memory problems
- Inexplicable weight gain or difficulty losing weight despite dieting and exercise
- Depression, irritability, and mood swings
- Diagnosis of medical conditions associated with sleep apnea, like high blood pressure and diabetes
Is there a a way to resolve sleep apnea?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for sleep apnea. Don’t stop reading, though! There are effective sleep apnea and snoring treatments.
This first step in conquering your sleep apnea is a test with a sleep doctor or specialist. This is usually initiated by your medical doctor. Once it’s been determined you do have OSA, there are treatments to help you sleep better.
A traditional and very effective sleep apnea treatment is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP. Essentially, CPAP is a machine that streams oxygen into your airways to keep them from collapsing during sleep.
The downside to CPAP is the noise, restriction and discomfort. Some sleep apnea patients find the machine difficult to tolerate and either abandon it or only use it for a few hours each night. This, of course, dramatically reduces its effectiveness as a sleep apnea or snoring treatment. If this sounds like you, we encourage you to talk to your doctor about an oral appliance.
Dental treatment for sleep apnea can be a treatment option for those who have mild to moderate sleep apnea, or those who can’t can’t tolerate CPAP.