Maybe your sleeping partner says your snoring sounds like a 747 landing in the next room; maybe you just don't wake up refreshed after what you thought was a good night's sleep and feel tired during the day.
These are two signs of sleep apnea brief periods when you stop breathing while sleeping causing sleep disturbances that usually go unnoticed but can affect your ability to function during the day.
Sleep apnea is surprisingly common. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is estimated that more than 12 million Americans have this condition. Although sleep apnea becomes more common as you age, it can occur at any time in your life, including childhood.
Whatever the cause, sleep apnea makes it hard to breathe while you're asleep. The resulting drop in your blood oxygen level triggers your brain to disturb your sleep so you can breathe, but not enough to wake you entirely, so you're not aware of what's happening.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
A number of factors increase your risk of sleep apnea. These include a family history of sleep apnea, a large neck with recessed chin, abnormalities of the airway, alcohol use, and smoking.
Many cases go undiagnosed because doctors cannot detect sleep apnea during a routine office visit. The only way to get a proper diagnosis is to undergo a sleep study, in which you're hooked up to a special machine that records your brain activity and breathing patterns.
Apnea Link is a device that will allow the sleep study to be conducted in the comfort of your own home.
For mild cases of sleep apnea, a simple first step may be a lifestyle change. Sleeping on one's side may prevent the tongue and palate from falling backwards into the throat and blocking the airway. Another first step would be to avoid alcohol and sleeping pills, which can relax throat muscles, contributing to the collapse of the airway at night.
For moderate to severe sleep apnea, the most common treatment is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which “splints” the patient's airway open during sleep.
For both cases dentists specializing in sleep disorders can prescribe oral appliance therapy (OAT). The oral appliance is a custom-made mouthpiece that shifts the lower jaw forward, opening the airway.
If you snore and are very tired during the day, please call and schedule a consultation with a health professional who specializes in treating sleep disorders. Don't wait. Get help and spread the word.