Can we get a show of hands for those of us who cannot function well without sleep? Our hands are definitely up. Getting good quality sleep is an absolute must, and yet, sleep apnea is a significant health issue in the United States.
In fact, it’s estimated that 22 million American adults are suffering from sleep apnea and keeping their sleeping partner awake thanks to frequent snoring.
That’s a lot of people!
Lack of sleep is obviously detrimental to your health, but what’s extra scary about sleep apnea, in particular, is that the person actually stops breathing while sleeping! These pauses, called apneas, interrupt your breathing by restricting airflow to your lungs, also referred to as hypopnea.
Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Along with snoring, if you’re experiencing sleep apnea, you’re probably coping with one or more of these symptoms:
- Struggling with excessive sleepiness throughout your day (hypersomnia).
- Feeling dangerously exhausted all day, which could even make you fall asleep behind the wheel or while you’re handling machinery.
- Waking up gasping for air; this shortness of breath can make you feel like you’re choking, and it’s scary!
- Feeling irritable and moody during the day; these emotional swings can leave you depressed and open to clinical mood disorders.
- Struggling to concentrate so that your work and daily routine suffer because you’re constantly losing focus and affecting the people around you.
- Waking up constantly thinking you’re awake because you need to go to the bathroom.
- Feeling like your mouth is dry or your throat is scratchy when you wake up.
- Waking up with chronic morning headaches from a lack of REM sleep (rapid eye movement, or dream sleep)
- Struggling to sleep through the night (insomnia) no matter how many sheep you count.
- Having trouble concentrating or remembering things, leaving you to wonder if you have dementia or Alzheimer’s.
- Gaining weight or turning to alcohol or tobacco to help you cope with your never-ending tiredness.
- A diminishing desire for intimacy which makes you and your significant other cranky.
Who’s at Risk for Sleep Apnea
If you experience any of the symptoms above you may be at risk. And snoring is one of the first tell-tale signs.
Over 37 million Americans have a snoring habit, whether from weight gain, aging (weakening throat muscle tone), or more commonly, from undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can strike people of any age, including infants and children, but it is most frequently seen in men over 40, especially those who are overweight.
For women, the risk increases with being overweight and rises after menopause.
Both men and women can have an increased risk if they:
- Have heart disorders
- Use narcotic pain medication
- Have had a stroke
What You Can Do About Sleep Apnea
There are three kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive (OSA), central, and complex (a combination of the two).
If you stop breathing for 10 seconds or more, that’s an apnea.
Central sleep apnea is when your breathing lessens or stops off-and-on as you sleep because of your brain or heart. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a restriction or blockage in your airway.
Depending on the degree of your sleep apnea there are different things you can do to get a good night’s rest again.
First, you’ll want to get properly diagnosed. It starts with seeing your doctor for an evaluation and then having a sleep specialist evaluate your sleep patterns with a sleep study. This allows the degree of your apnea to be assessed, whether mild to moderate or moderate to severe.
Things You Can Try At Home
The best thing that you can do at home is to make lifestyle changes. Of course, these might not apply to all cases but still might be a way for you to deal with your sleep apnea.
- Losing weight, even just 5 – 10 pounds, especially the fat around your neck can improve the breathing in the upper airway.
- Sleeping on your side instead of your back keeps the tongue from rolling back and blocking the airway while you sleep. Making sure your head is elevated by even four inches can lessen airway pressure, allowing you to breathe easier.
- To fix a stuffy nose, you can use a nasal strip or a few squirts of saline before you go to bed for the night. Keeping the air moist in your bedroom is helpful, so maybe dig out your humidifier from storage and get that going! Allergy sufferers find that an OTC prescription steroid spray can improve nasal congestion.
- If you enjoy a drink in the evening, be aware that alcohol relaxes the throat muscles, so have your nightcap early in the evening rather than as a bedtime nightcap.
Ramping up to Professional Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
Professional treatment varies from surgery to minimally invasive procedures to something as simple as wearing a mask or an oral appliance while you sleep.
If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, then your doctor may recommend that you use a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep. It’s called a CPAP (SEE-pap), which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The air pressure from the mask is somewhat greater than that of the surrounding air. It’s just enough to keep your upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring.
Although CPAP is the most common and reliable method of treating sleep apnea, some people find it difficult to sleep with or uncomfortable. In which case, you may be able to use an oral appliance instead.
An oral appliance, that looks and feels like a large retainer, will also keep your airway open. An oral appliance is designed to bring your jaw forward and open your throat so that you can breathe.
When You Want to Treat the Cause and Not Just the Symptoms
If poor nasal breathing leaves you breathing through your mouth, this causes orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs) that can interfere with your daily life.
Our dentist, Dr. Powell offers myofunctional therapy so that you can improve your own natural ability to properly breath which in turn will help you get the quality sleep you’re lacking.
This treatment, when combined with the Fixed Anterior Growth Guidance Appliance (FAAGA) can be especially effective, particularly for individuals who want to avoid surgery.
Together the treatments permanently open your airway by developing your jaw and training your mouth to function the way that it was supposed to so that you can live a life free of breathing machines and appliances.
If you’ve been suffering from a lack of quality sleep or sleep apnea, Dr. Powell and our team are ready to help you find the right answer for your needs.
At Exceptional Dentistry, we offer sleep apnea and sleep treatments in Palmdale, California, to help you get the sleep your body needs to function optimally. To finally get a good night’s rest, we welcome you to call us today at (661) 349-7725 or simply schedule a reservation online.