Loud snoring during sleep can be disruptive to a good night’s rest; not only for you but also for someone you love. Understandably, chronic snoring is a problem that needs to be resolved in order to keep the peace in a home. From a medical standpoint, snoring presents a number of concerns, as well. If you or someone you love snores nightly and is struggling with other symptoms, such as forgetfulness or excessive daytime fatigue, you may want to explore the possibility that they may be suffering from sleep apnea.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a group of sleep disorders. In each type of sleep apnea, the common characteristic is that a person stops breathing at various points in their sleep. Sleep apnea may be caused by structural blockages or cognitive abnormality.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of this sleep condition. Fortunately, it may also be the easiest to treat. In obstructive sleep apnea, a person stops breathing when their airway closes due to the weight of relaxed muscles.
Central sleep apnea is less common. This condition involves pauses in breathing during sleep due to an interruption in brain function. In central sleep apnea, the brain momentarily forgets to signal the lungs and muscles to breathe.
Combined sleep apnea involves both excessive pressure on the airway and a defect in the neurotransmissions in the brain.
Signs You May Have Sleep Apnea
There are several indications that a person may have sleep apnea. Some may only be noticed by a partner or loved one who sleeps in close proximity to the affected person. A person with sleep apnea may exhibit symptoms such as:
- Loud snoring
- Momentary pauses in snoring, indicating a lack of respiration
- Restless sleep
- Significant daytime sleepiness, difficulty staying awake
- Falling asleep at stoplights or while watching television
- Moodiness or persistent irritability
- Decreased productivity
- Increased clumsiness and accidents
- Problems with anxiety or depression
- Diminished personal relationships
- Morning headaches and sore throat
What Factors Can Increase My Risk of Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea relates to excess weight around the throat when muscles relax at rest. Therefore, factors that affect fatty and muscle tissue can increase one’s risk of this type of sleep apnea. Factors to consider include:
- General weight. The heavier a person is, the more fatty tissue they will have around their neck pressing against the airway.
- Neck circumference. Generally, healthy people with a large neck circumference are more likely to have excess muscle or fatty tissue around the throat.
- Naturally narrow airway. The airway may naturally be smaller or may be narrowed by tonsils and adenoids, glands that are situated in the throat.
- Age and gender factors. Studies suggest that three times more men develop obstructive sleep apnea than women. The condition also occurs more in older individuals, likely due to the decline of muscle tone that occurs with age.
- Smoking. Sleep apnea is three times more common in smokers than in non-smokers. This is due to fluid retention and inflammation in the airway.
- Sedative use. People who take sedatives as a sleep aid may relax to the extent of closing off their airway. Remember, alcohol qualifies as a sedative.
- Nasal obstruction. People with a deviated septum or chronic nasal congestion are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
A doctor may begin to diagnose sleep apnea during a comprehensive consultation and discussion of symptoms. The suspected diagnosis, along with the type of sleep apnea a person has, are confirmed through a sleep study. Home sleep studies have been developed to avoid the need for an overnight stay in a medical sleep center. During a home sleep study, a device records a person’s heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen levels while they sleep.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
Historically, sleep apnea has been treated with CPAP therapy. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. This technique resolves symptoms by delivering air into the airway while a person sleeps. To achieve this, the patient must wear a face or nasal mask that is attached to a small device via a hose.
More recently, patients have been managing obstructive sleep apnea using oral appliances made by their dentist. Oral appliance therapy works by gently manipulating the lower jaw into a forward position that supports an open airway. Devices are small, comfortable, and effective at reducing or ending sleep apnea symptoms.
What Our Patients Say
“I’ve been a patient for 30 years. Exceptional expertise. Exceptional staff. Exceptionally friendly, caring and knowledgeable. The latest appliance (Panthera) has resolved my snoring and sleep apnea issues. I now sleep through the night, waking up rested and refreshed. Thank you team Slepchik!!” – Patricia C.
Side Effects of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea deprives the brain and body of necessary oxygen. It also increases the release of stress hormones on an ongoing basis. In conjunction with severe sleep deprivation, these effects of sleep apnea present serious health concerns. Untreated sleep apnea is a factor in heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and death.