Do you often feel unrested after a full night’s sleep or become drowsy at midday? Do your family members complain about your loud snoring? While many men and women write-off their “bear growling,” it could actually be a sign of a serious sleep disorder. Sleep apnea affects over 30 million Americans and, if left untreated, can lead to harmful or life-threatening health problems. Luckily, sleep apnea can be treated with a variety of safe and non-invasive products.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder identified by the repetitive stopping and starting of breathing during sleep. People who suffer from sleep apnea regularly wake up during the night due to the cessation of their breathing. Most patients with sleep apnea have trouble falling asleep, cannot sleep throughout the night, wake up early, or feel fatigued even after a full night’s rest.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax during sleep. As the muscles relax, the passageway for air becomes more narrow and prevents you from inhaling an adequate amount of air. This can lower the oxygen levels in the blood. When your brain senses that you are having trouble breathing, it wakes you up so you can inhale and oxygenate your blood. People who suffer from sleep apnea can be awoken as many as 30 times an hour. These stirrings are usually so brief that you don’t remember waking up, but they can prevent you from reaching the very important stage of deep sleep.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Loud snoring
- Abrupt awakenings that are accompanied with a shortness of breath
- Waking with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Attention problems
Sleep Apnea’s Effect on Your Health
While your body will often wake you up before you suffocate, there are still numerous negative effects that sleep apnea can have on your health and well being. Sleep apnea is the second leading cause of erectile dysfunction. Four percent of all car crashes are caused by a driver who has fallen asleep at the wheel. Patients with sleep apnea are also five times more likely to develop cancer. On average, untreated sleep apnea can remove 11 years from your life. Serious health effects include:
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Worsening or increased risk of high blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
Correcting Sleep Apnea
The most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The CPAP machine increases the pressure in your throat so it doesn’t collapse while you sleep. A mask covers your mouth, and air flows into your mouth and throat, increasing the pressure. While it is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, not every patient enjoys using one. Some people have trouble falling and staying asleep with the machine on their face, and as they slowly stop using the CPAP machine, their sleep apnea symptoms return.
CPAP Alternative: Oral Appliance Therapy
Patients who aren’t compatible with a CPAP machine can gain relief through oral appliance therapy (OAT). A customized mouthpiece (similar to a mouth guard) is used to support the jaw. This helps prevent the throat and soft tissues from collapsing, keeping your airways open during sleep and improving your breathing. OAT is best for patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Patients who are severely overweight may not quality for the use of an OAT.
If you suffer from sleep apnea and a CPAP machine has not provided you with the relief you desire, schedule your consultation with Dr. Sands for a custom OAT device. Contact our office at (818) 306-5153 or fill out our online contact form for additional information.