Recognizing and treating sleep apnea for improved rest and health.

Sleep is essential—in fact, scientists have yet to find a single animal on earth who doesn’t need at least some sleep! When we sleep, our bodies carry out essential functions like repairing cells, producing hormones and key elements of your immune system, and storing new information in your brain while clearing out waste products. It’s no wonder that getting a good night’s sleep has an almost magical effect on your day, helping you feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. On the other hand, conditions like sleep apnea that interrupt your sleep can cause a wide range of symptoms that can be disruptive to your daily life and even to your health.

How do you know the difference between sleep apnea and simply having trouble sleeping? Recognizing the signs and knowing when you should call a sleep doctor can be the key to taking the right steps toward better sleep! To help you decide if you need to see a sleep doctor, we’ve broken down what the condition is and how you can tell if you may be dealing with it.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes your breathing to stop and restart repeatedly throughout the night. The condition has a range of severity, but it can cause you to stop breathing between five and 100 times an hour, usually for 10 seconds or more each time. There are three different types of this condition, each differentiated by what causes you to stop breathing in your sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which simply occurs when the muscles of your throat relax too much as you sleep and cause your airway to become obstructed. In contrast, central sleep apnea is caused when your brain doesn’t send signals to the muscles that control your breathing. Complex sleep apnea is when you have both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

The three types have very similar symptoms, so regardless of the type of sleep apnea you may have, you and your partner can look out for a wide range of symptoms if you think you may be suffering from the condition. These include:

  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping.
  • Loud snoring at night.
  • Waking up at night short of breath.
  • Snorting or choking sounds during the night, which may be an indication that you’ve started breathing again.
  • Headaches upon waking in the morning.
  • Extreme fatigue or trouble focusing during the day.
  • Falling asleep unintentionally during the day.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth.
  • Mood changes like irritability.

While your partner may be more likely to notice the sounds you make as you resume breathing throughout the night, the other symptoms are a direct result of the way sleep apnea affects your body. Fatigue and trouble focusing are particularly common symptoms that you’re likely to experience even if you feel like you’re sleeping the entire night. This is because your body only wakes you up just enough to resume breathing. You might not remember waking up at all, but it still disrupts your sleeping pattern and keeps you from getting the deep, restorative sleep that you really need. Similarly, waking up with a headache is caused by reduced oxygen levels at night and experiencing a dry mouth in the morning is an indication of snoring.

Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but when paired with one or more symptoms from this list, it may be an indication of sleep apnea. If you suspect that you or your partner has this condition, the best thing to do is to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist. You’ll need to undergo a sleep test to determine whether or not you have the condition.

What are the risk factors that increase the chances of getting sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea has a wide range of risk factors and underlying causes. Factors you can’t control like family history, having a narrow airway, nasal congestion, being older, being male, and medical conditions like congestive heart failure and hormonal disorders can increase your chances of getting the condition, but so can aspects of your lifestyle. Smoking, obesity, alcohol use, and taking sedatives or tranquilizers also increase your risk. Central sleep apnea shares many of these risks, but it has a few unique risk factors, including if you’ve had a stroke in the past or take narcotic pain medications.

How is it treated?

While sleep apnea does have the potential to cause serious health conditions if it goes undiagnosed, the good news is that it’s very treatable using several different methods. If you have this condition because you’re overweight, you can improve—and sometimes even completely resolve—sleep apnea by losing weight. Other behavioral treatments like quitting smoking, not drinking alcohol before bed, and switching up the medications you’re on can improve your sleep apnea. It is difficult to change habits and especially to lose weight if you’re not sleeping well, however. Which is why other treatment in conjunction with lifestyle changes can give you the best results.

Medical treatments such as oral devices, CPAP machines, and surgery as a last resort are typical treatment recommendations. CPAP machines are a common treatment that pushes air through a mask you wear over your nose or nose and mouth, keeping your airway open and allowing you to breathe normally throughout the night. There are many drawbacks to the machine, though, such as expense, comfort, and noise, that make it a less than desirable option for some patients.

We offer an alternative treatment solution for people with mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea. It’s an oral appliance by Optisleep. These anti-snoring devices are a lot like nightguards, but they’re designed to gently and comfortably keep your jaw in an ideal position as you sleep. This position keeps your airway as open as possible, but it feels natural and relaxed, ensuring the oral appliance is comfortable to wear to sleep. Sleep apnea devices aren’t an option for everyone, but they can serve as a more comfortable, travel-friendly, and lower maintenance solution if your case isn’t severe.

If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with sleep apnea, a truly restful night’s sleep that leaves you feeling happy and refreshed isn’t out of reach! Sleep apnea is very treatable, so getting diagnosed is actually a good thing—it sets you on the path to choosing an effective treatment option that will leave you feeling happier and more energetic while helping you to live a longer, healthier life. If you need help with your sleep apnea, book an appointment with the Metro East Dental Care team and start sleeping more soundly.