ARE YOU FEELING fatigued all day as if you didn't get enough sleep? Does your partner tell you that you snore all the time? If so, you may be suffering from a common disorder known as sleep apnea.
What Is It?
Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder that happens when your breathing is interrupted. If left untreated, this condition repeatedly stops your breathing while you sleep, even as much as a hundred or more times per night. When this happens, your body and brain aren’t getting enough oxygen.
There are over 18 million adults in the United States who suffer from sleep apnea. Although children get this condition as well, it is hard to determine exactly how prevalent the condition is in children since there is a wide range of monitoring methods. However, it's estimated that around three percent of children have the disorder, and as much as 20 percent in those who frequently snore. It affects both sexes and all age groups.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two main types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.
1) Central sleep apnea happens when your brain signals controlling control your muscles aren’t working correctly.
2) Obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when you can't breathe normally because of the upper airway is obstructed, as its name implies.
How Do You Know if You Have It?
Sleep apnea symptoms are similar in both central and obstructive sleep apneas, which may make it difficult for you to determine which type you have. However, common symptoms of both types include:
- Snoring loudly
- Another person witnessing you stopping breathing frequently while you sleep
- Shortness of breath and waking up abruptly
- Waking up with a sore throat and dry mouth
- Headaches in the morning
- Insomnia (difficulty falling and staying asleep)
- Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day)
- Problems with attention
When children have sleep apnea, it can cause hostile or angry behavior, hyperactivity, and poor school performance. They may use their mouths instead of their noses to breathe during the day.
What are the Dangers of Sleep Apnea?
There can be serious complications – even life-shortening complications – when sleep apnea is left untreated, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Untreated sleep apnea can also increase the risk of falling asleep while driving, causing accidents and other consequences.
How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
Sleep apnea is often diagnosed through a sleep study, called polysomnography. Typically, this means that you spend the night at a sleep center. During the sleep study, a sleep specialist monitors these functions while you sleep:
- Heart rate
- Sleep stage
- Respiratory effort
- Muscle activity
- Eye movement
- Blood oxygen levels
Sleep studies also help determine how severe your sleep apnea is. In some drastic cases, the doctor might feel the need to start your treatment right away in the sleep center.
What is the Treatment for Sleep Apnea?
While sleep apnea is not treated with medication, it can be treated by lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, breathing devices and surgery.
Initially, your doctor may have you try making these changes to your lifestyle:
- Avoiding alcohol or medications that make you drowsy
- Losing weight if overweight
- Changing your sleep position
- Quitting smoking if you're a smoker
- Using special pillows when you sleep
- Taking allergy medications or using nasal sprays to keep your nasal passages open during the night
You may be referred to your dentist to have a custom-fit mouthpiece created for you. This special dental oral device helps by adjusting your tongue and lower jaw so that your airways stay open while sleeping.
A common treatment for more serious cases of sleep apnea is CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. A mask that fits over your nose and mouth is hooked up to a CPAP machine that blows air into your throat gently. This helps keep your airways open while sleeping.
The type of surgery you have and how effective it is depends on the cause of your sleep apnea. Surgery may make your breathing passages wider. Typically, your surgeon stiffens, shrinks, or removes excess tissue from your throat and mouth or resets your lower jaw.
So, if your partner tells you that you’re keeping him up all night with your loud snoring, or you can't seem to find enough energy the next day to go about your daily routine, you may want to consider getting tested for sleep apnea. If you’re diagnosed with it, you can work with your doctor to determine which treatment will be best for you.