Sleep apnea is a condition where you stop breathing at night, causing you to wake up and drift back to sleep constantly throughout the evening. When you don’t breathe, your brain and body aren’t receiving the proper amount of oxygen that they need.
Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea
That lack of oxygen to your body and brain caused by sleep apnea can really affect your quality of life and put you at risk for other health issues. For example, if this condition isn’t treated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), heart failure, diabetes, and heart attacks. In addition to the physical side effects, you’re putting yourself at risk daily for falling asleep during the day at the worst times like when you’re driving or working.
There Are Three Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three major types of sleep apnea. Each one is different and caused by various circumstances.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA occurs when the airway at the back of the throat becomes physically blocked. The obstruction causes a temporary lapse in your breathing. Typically, the only way you start breathing again is when your brain wakes your body up, telling you to breath.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): CSA happens when the brain has trouble controlling the muscles involved in breathing in and out, leading to slower and shallower breathing.
- Mixed Sleep Apnea: Mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea occurs when you have both OSA and CSA.
Sleep Apnea Signs, Symptoms, and Causes
Sleep apnea can be treated. If you’re unsure whether you need treatment, here are the top 20 symptoms to look out for.
This condition is more than just a nuisance for the person that sleeps next to you. Snoring is a sign of some significant health conditions, sleep apnea being one of them. Snoring occurs when the muscles relax and the tissues in the back of your throat, causing them to vibrate when you breathe in and out.
2. Grinding/Clenching Your Teeth
Research has shown a correlation between people who grind and/or clench their teeth and sleep apnea.
3. Waking Up With A Headache
Waking up with a headache is typically a sign that you snore and/or clench and grind in your sleep. Headaches also result from poor sleep or a lack of oxygen to the brain, caused by breathing problems.
4. Restless Sleep
Constantly tossing and turning at night, flailing your arms in your sleep, and waking up in strange positions are signs that you’re not resting properly.
5. Always Feeling Tired
Feeling rested is the true test. After sleeping the recommended number of hours, if you’re still feeling tired then you may be getting poor sleep and depriving your brain of oxygen.
6. Waking Frequently
During sleep if your breaths are too shallow, or if you stop breathing all together, your body will wake you up. You may think that you woke up because you need to switch positions or that you need to use the restroom, but it’s likely due to not receiving enough air.
7. Wakeful Gasping
If you stop breathing long enough during your sleep, your brain will tell your body to wake up and breathe, which results in a startling awakening where you’re gasping to get a good breath in. As soon as you get your breath in you’ll drift back to sleep but soon enough the same thing will happen and it’s a never-ending cycle of poor sleep every night.
8. Reports The You Stop Breathing At Night
If you sleep with a partner and they have noticed that there are times during the night when you aren’t breathing, then it’s likely that you have some type of sleep apnea.
9. Waking Up With A Dry Mouth or Throat
If you’re not getting enough air through your nose then your body’s instinct is to open your mouth to compensate. Also, constant gasping for air will cause your mouth to be open most of the night. An open airway causes a dry mouth and throat, which you’ll notice when you wake up.
10. Being Overweight
People who are overweight commonly suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea because they have excess tissue in the back of their throat. When they lay down, the tissue collapses, obstructing the airway.
If you’re easily frustrated or having frequent mood swings then you may be lacking quality sleep.
12. Difficulty Remembering
Can’t remember something that occurs yesterday or the funny joke you heard the earlier this week? You may be suffering from sleep deprivation, due to sleep apnea, which can contribute to memory loss.
13. Falling Asleep Throughout The Day
Your body will try to get its rest any which way it can, even if it is while you’re driving down the road or in a meeting a work. Falling asleep during times where you should be awake is a sign that your nightly sleep quality is lacking.
14. Low Sex Drive
Sleep apnea causes lowered hormone levels which may result in sexual dysfunction.
15. Large Neck Circumference
People with thicker necks typically have a narrow airway that doesn’t allow proper breathing. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overweight; it’s all in your anatomy.
16. A Narrowed Airway
Some people who aren’t overweight or have a large neck circumference just naturally have a narrow throat. Tonsils or adenoids can also block airflow.
17. Waking Up Confused
Do you ever wake up and don’t know where you are or what day it is? This could be a sign that your sleep is lacking and you’re not getting quality rest.
18. You’re a Man
Males are more likely to get sleep apnea than women because of the anatomy of their neck and airway.
19. Dizziness Upon Awakening
Do you ever feel dizzy when you wake up, even before you sit up or get out of bed? It’s been linked to low oxygen levels.
Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea may have trouble remembering their dreams and that they have nightmares more than regular/peaceful dreams.
Getting Tested For Sleep Apnea
In order to get diagnosed with an official sleep apnea diagnosis, you’ll need to see a sleep provider to discuss having a sleep study done . Some doctors will send you to a sleep lab where you will spend the night, while others will send you home with a portable device. These nighttime sleep studies are more common and easy to use.
Your sleep study uses a monitor that records your heart, lung, and brain activity; breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. Home studies may focus more on snoring, heart rate, pulse, and respiration patterns.
If attending a sleep lab, you may only need to sleep for a few hours before they get all the information they need. For at-home tests, you may be asked to wear the equipment for 1-2 nights.
Once you get a proper diagnosis, you can get a treatment plan to get your condition under control.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Luckily, sleep apnea is treatable and there are a few ways that you can accomplish a restful night’s sleep:
- Oral appliances: Typically made from a hard clear acrylic, sleep apnea oral appliances are available through our sleep dentistry team in Raleigh. These mouthpieces open the airway by protruding the lower jaw forward, which also prevents the tongue from falling back against the soft palate. Appliances like these are helpful in people with obstructive sleep apnea.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): A CPAP machine consists of a mask that’s worn over your nose or covers your mouth and nose. A hose connects the mask to a unit that blows pressurized air into your airway, keeping it open all night long. Wearing a CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea.
- Surgery: Surgery can correct excess or loose tissue in the back of your throat, enlarged tonsils, adenoids (lumpy glands at the roof of the mouth), or uvula (the fleshy skin that hangs in the back of your throat) by removing excess tissue and reshaping the airway.
- Implant: If you have Central Sleep Apnea, then you may be a candidate for a minimally invasive outpatient procedure done by a cardiologist where he implants a device under the skin of your chest. This apparatus sends signals to the muscle that controls breathing in the same way that the brain signals it to breathe.
- Losing weight: Excess skin around your neck compresses your upper airway, so losing weight will remove the blockage and allow you to breathe easily.
Sleep Apnea Dentist in Raleigh
Not sure if you should be worried about sleep apnea? Our Raleigh sleep dentist can help you determine if you ought to be tested by evaluating your airway, checking your neck, and looking for signs of grinding and clenching. You don’t have to wait for your regular annual exam appointment, you can reach out to us anytime with your concerns and we’ll schedule you for a consultation.
Raleigh Dental Arts is here to help you with your sleep apnea diagnosis and provides oral appliances as an alternative to CPAP therapy. Give us a call today!