What is Sleep Apnea?

Have you ever been told by your bed partner that you snore at night? Loud snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea. It can be a potentially serious disorder which may need medical attention from a specialist for proper treatment. Sleep apnea is a common condition where breathing is interrupted for an instant while you are sleeping. Much of the time, sleep apnea is unrecognized. But it is possible to distinguish it from normal snoring and it is treatable.

Someone who has sleep apnea will experience a brief interruption in their breathing pattern or their breathing might become very shallow. This may occur hundreds of times a night where breathing pauses between 10 to 20 seconds. As your body recovers from the pause, you are jolted out of your natural sleep rhythm as you gasp for air. This causes you to spend more time in a lighter sleep rather than deep restorative sleep. As a result, you may feel less energetic, tired all day, and in a mental fog when awake. This lack of deep sleep can slow your reflexes, make it difficult to concentrate, and could lead to a higher occurrence of accidents. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to other serious health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain.

Orthodontics plays an important role in treating sleep apnea. Specially designed oral appliances can effectively adjust the position of the mouth allowing for proper air flow to prevent blockage. Dr. Scott works with sleep disorder physicians who can evaluate your symptoms. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, you should see a specialist since sleep apnea can be a serious problem. A sleep apnea evaluation might involve a home based sleep test or possibly an overnight stay in a sleep clinic.

How can you tell if you have sleep apnea? Just because you snore, doesn’t necessarily mean you have sleep apnea. Some people who have sleep apnea don’t snore at all. So, how do you tell whether or not you have it? An indicator which points to sleep apnea is how you feel during the day. Your sleep is meant to refresh your body. If you still feel extremely tired during the day, you might suspect that you aren’t getting the quality of sleep you need. Most people may not even know they have sleep apnea or have difficulty differentiating between it and normal snoring. This is due to the fact that you are sleeping and mostly unaware of your breathing. However, you could ask your bed partner to monitor your sleeping habits to look for typical signs of sleep apnea. Your bed partner should monitor for unusually loud and continuous snoring, gasping for breath, or choking sounds. He or she might watch for long pauses in your breathing rhythm. Also, they may note you seem to easily fall asleep during the daytime even though you appear to be getting sleep at night. These are subtle signs you may have sleep apnea. Signs you might be aware of yourself include morning headaches, dry mouth and occasional sore throat caused by breathing excessively through your mouth. Difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep, frequent trips to the bathroom, difficultly with your memory or concentrating on your work, nervousness, depression and irritability – all point to the possibility of sleep apnea.

What happens to you during sleep apnea? When airflow is interrupted during sleep apnea, the amount of oxygen in your blood drops. Unconsciously, your brain takes action to disturb your sleep just enough to get your muscles moving again to get air. This often causes you to gasp or make a slight choking sound. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you likely won’t even know or remember these interruptions in your sleep. You brain will cause you to adjust your body position just enough to tighten your throat muscles which open your windpipe. You may simply roll over and fall back to sleep. With central sleep apnea you are more likely be become aware of your body’s reaction to regain oxygen since you literally stopped breathing.

Different types of sleep apnea – Sleep apnea is most commonly known as “obstructive sleep apnea” which happens when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes while you sleep causing it to block your airway. This fluttering of soft tissue often causes the person to snore. However, there is also a less common type known as “central sleep apnea”. This type of apnea is due to the brain failing to communicate through the central nervous system and muscles which control breathing. This type of sleep apnea patient rarely snores. It is also possible to have both obstructive and central sleep apnea at the same time.

What are risk factors for sleep apnea? Although anyone can have sleep apnea, the risk of this condition increases if you are male, over 40 years old, have a large neck size, have large tonsils, have gastro-esophageal reflux, a nasal obstruction, or a family history for sleep apnea.

Children may have sleep apnea as well. It is not always easy to recognize sleep apnea in children. Besides the typical loud snoring, children also exhibit other symptoms such as bedwetting, excessive perspiration, and night terrors. Children’s daytime behavior might include hyperactivity, inattentiveness, irritability, moodiness, belligerence and developmental problems.

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