Sleep apnea is a disorder during which the patient's breathing is frequently interrupted while asleep. The interruptions lead to a pause in breathing that can last as long as 10 seconds. Sleep apnea often occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat are not able to keep the airway open while a person sleeps. This is called obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea is the second type. It occurs when the patient's brain fails to properly regulate breathing while asleep.
People with sleep apnea are only able to get fragmented sleep. This is because their REM sleep is constantly being interrupted, preventing them from getting deep, meaningful sleep. People with sleep apnea also tend to have low oxygen levels, which in turn can lead to heart disease, bad moods, memory issues and hypertension. People with sleep apnea tend to go about their days feeling drowsy. That can be particularly dangerous when driving.
Other symptoms include:
There are over 18 million people in the U.S. who have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Factors that can increase a person's risk of having this sleep disorder include:
When a person thinks they have sleep apnea, they should see a dentist or doctor immediately. The patient should record their sleep patterns prior to the consultation. Patients should also bring a list of any medications being taken.
One of the common techniques used to detect sleep apnea is a sleep study. It usually requires an overnight stay at a sleep laboratory. The study monitors everything that occurs during sleep, like muscle activity, eye movement, heart rate, airflow, blood oxygen levels and sleep state.
This test is useful when it comes to diagnosing sleep apnea and determining how severe it is.
Less serious cases of sleep apnea can be treated with a special mouth guard. It helps keep the patient's jaw properly aligned while sleeping, opening up the person's airways. More serious cases often require the use of a continuous airway pressure device. This is a mask that goes over the patient's mouth and nose. It blows pressurized air inside the airways, opening them up. It is an effective way to treat sleep apnea, and most patients are able to get meaningful sleep as soon as they start using them.
Certain cases of sleep apnea can also be treated with surgical procedures. For example, if the patient's airway is being obstructed by an enlarged tonsil, it can be surgically removed to free up the airways.
Think you have sleep apnea? The best way to find out is by talking to a dentist about your symptoms. Set up an appointment with one of our dentists today.
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