Sleep apnea obstructs your sleep cycles by causing pauses in your breathing. Each time your breathing gets interrupted, your body is forced out of deep sleep and into a lighter sleep cycle in order to breathe. This can happen hundreds of times a night without you even realizing it is occurring. This can lead to serious, even deadly health risks, such as heart attack, stroke, and deadly car accidents.
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Fortunately, with proper treatment most of the risks can be avoided. Your doctor may prescribe CPAP, a pump and mask arrangement you have to wear at night, but many people benefit from an oral appliance, which is comfortable and easy to use. To learn which sleep apnea treatment is right for you, please call
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea – Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea. OSA, the most common form, results from a blockage in your air passage. This blockage is caused by a collapse in the soft tissue at the back of your throat and tongue.
Your brain and heart don’t receive enough oxygen as a result of OSA. This generally leads to increased blood pressure and heart rate, and can put you at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
In Central Sleep Apnea, your brain and central nervous system don’t function properly. They fail to tell your body to breathe. No blockage of airways exists in Central Sleep Apnea. It is more of a respiratory malfunction. People suffering from Central Sleep Apnea can experience stoppages in breathing of up to 2 minutes, which can severely impact the amount of oxygen going to your brain and heart.
Dangers of Sleep Apnea
It is associated with many serious health conditions that can actually shorten your lifespan. Some of the health issues commonly linked to sleep apnea include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Depression and other mood disorders
- Loss of short term memory
- Sexual dysfunction
When your brain senses that your oxygen supply is low, it tells your heart to work faster. This leads to high blood pressure at night, and, eventually interferes with your body’s ability to regulate the sympathetic nervous system, triggering elevated blood pressure throughout the day. It also hurts the heart, causing heart disease and, eventually, heart failure. High blood pressure can dislodge plaque in the arteries, leading to stroke.
At night, your brain performs essential tasks for regulating your body’s energy consumption and storage. Sleep apnea interferes with them, causing your body to store more fat, which contributes to obesity, and makes your body immune to insulin, causing type 2 diabetes.
Many people who have what is known as “maintenance insomnia”–waking up at night–actually have sleep apnea. The loss of sleep, whether you’re aware of waking up or not, significantly impairs your brain’s ability to function properly. You may become prone to depression and other mood disorders. You may lose short term memory and may lose interest in sex or other things you may previously have enjoyed.
The link with cancer is more tenuous. Some studies show a strong link while other studies show little connection between cancer and sleep apnea. But it is likely that a body weakened by sleep apnea may have difficulty fighting cancer and may have additional risks related to the demanding treatments cancer requires.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
There are many common symptoms of sleep apnea you should watch out for, such as:
- Waking up unrested
- Weight gain
- Fatigue or sleepiness during the day
- Dry mouth
- Sore throat
- Headaches in the morning
- Decreased sex drive
If you notice these symptoms, you should speak to your general doctor or a sleep doctor about your sleep apnea risk. It can only be diagnosed with a sleep test. For many people, this is a simple take-home device that you wear while sleeping. You may have to wear it several nights to collect enough data for a diagnosis, but you get to sleep in your own bed. We offer ApneaLink home testing for sleep apnea. It’s comfortable, convenient, and easy to use.
In other cases, diagnosis requires a sleep study in a sleep lab, where you are hooked up to a complex device that measures many aspects of your sleep and can tell whether your breathing is stopping during sleep.
Treating Sleep Apnea
The gold standard for sleep apnea treatment is CPAP, continuous positive airway pressure. This device consists of a mask you wear on your face, an air pump, and a hose that connects the two. The pump forces air into your nose and/or mouth to hold your airway open with the pressure. The treatment is highly effective when it’s used properly, but many people find it uncomfortable and therefore don’t wear it as much as they should, so they continue to have health problems.
Another option for treating sleep apnea is what are called oral appliances. The most common type of oral appliance is a mandibular advancement splint or MAS. The MAS holds your jaw forward while you sleep. Since your jaw is the main bony support for your airway, this also holds your airway open. We also offer the very comfortable MicrO2 appliance. Its small size makes it a great solution for people having trouble with bulkier appliances. The final type of oral appliance we offer is the DNA appliance which works to reshape your jaw, open your airway and eliminate your breathing problems during sleep. In general, oral appliances are recommended for people with mild or moderate sleep apnea, but people with a severe level can benefit if they are unable to tolerate CPAP.
Surgery is not generally recommended, although some people can benefit, and it can work well in conjunction with other types of treatment.