You could have sleep apnea, a common but serious condition that literally stops your breathing while you are sleeping and makes you repeatedly wake up without realizing it.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a blockage in the back of your throat to stop you from breathing while you sleep. The blockage can be caused by tissues at the back of your throat or even your tongue. When the airway is blocked, your body responds immediately by waking up. You resume breathing and then immediately return to sleep, and this all happens so quickly that you are usually not aware that you were ever awake. The result is that you wake up in the morning completely unaware that you were awakened many times during the night for split seconds.
Another type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, is a neurological disorder that does not involve an obstruction. This is a much more complicated condition and requires treatment by a sleep specialist. The primary difference in symptoms between the two types of sleep apnea is that obstructive sleep apnea almost always causes loud snoring, but central sleep apnea does not.
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Snoring, especially if it is loud, is very often a sign of sleep apnea. Daytime fatigue, difficulty with memory and concentration and headaches are also possible symptoms. Obstructive sleep apnea is most common in men and people over 40, but it can happen to anyone. Being overweight also increases the chances of sleep apnea.
One of the most common treatment methods for obstructive sleep apnea is a breathing machine, called a constructive positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. These machines are prescribed by medical doctors, and they work by forcing a continuous flow of air into the air passageways to keep them open all night. A mask is worn that covers the nose and sometimes the mouth. Though CPAP is usually very successful at controlling sleep apnea and its symptoms, including snoring, many people are uncomfortable wearing the mask or with the noise of the machine running all night. If this is the case, the patient may be unlikely to sleep with the disturbance, making CPAP an ineffectual treatment.
Treatment from a Dentist
One of the best alternative sleep apnea treatments can come from your dentist. The blockage that causes the problem can often be eliminated with the aid of a small device that is worn in the mouth. The device is somewhat like a retainer or mouth guard and is custom designed for each patient individually. When you wear the device while you sleep, it gently keeps your tongue and jaws in optimum position for the free passage of air. This can eliminate snoring and the blockage of air that causes breathing stoppage and repeated sleep interruptions.
How Serious is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea and its symptoms may seem like more of an annoyance than a serious problem, but the problems it causes not only with breathing but with quality of life and even safety are considerable. When you are tired or have difficulty concentrating during the day, this can affect your ability to perform your job or other tasks, and it can even cause safety hazards, especially when you are driving or operating machinery.
Sleep apnea can also affect your overall health. Studies have shown that sleep apnea may be related to:
- Heart attacks
- Shorter life expectancy, by as much as 12 years
Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Many people ignore snoring or fatigue as normal parts of life, especially when they reach middle age, but these could be symptoms of sleep apnea and are worth seeking treatment for.
Find Out More
If you would like to learn more about sleep apnea, you can contact our office. Sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a medical doctor, but if you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and would like to learn about the dental treatment alternative to a breathing machine, call us now to set up a consultation appointment.