Sleep Apnea: Understanding this Sleep Breathing Disorder
As we all know, getting a good night’s sleep is important for us to function properly and maintain good health. However, some people may experience restless nights, even after getting enough hours of sleep, which can be a sign of Sleep Breathing Disorder or obstructive sleep apnea.
This common sleep disorder is characterized by breathing that repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, leading to daytime fatigue and other health issues. It is important to seek help from a medical professional if you suspect you may have sleep apnea to prevent further health complications.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea accounts for approximately 80% of all cases. This type of sleep apnea is caused by a physical blockage in the airway, which can occur due to factors like obesity, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or a deviated septum.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Unlike OSA, CSA is caused by a disruption in the brain’s ability to control breathing during sleep. This form of sleep apnea is less common, accounting for approximately 20% of all cases.
CSA can also be caused by heart failure, stroke, or the use of opioids. The main symptoms of CSA include difficulty breathing during sleep, shortness of breath upon waking, and insomnia. Treatments for CSA may include the use of a CPAP or bilevel pressure device.
Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CompSA)
Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CompSA) is a less common form of sleep apnea that combines features of both OSA and CSA. This means that the patient has both a physical blockage in their airway and a disruption in the brain’s ability to control breathing.
The symptoms of CompSA can be more severe than those of OSA or CSA alone and may include loud snoring, choking during sleep, and difficulty breathing. Treatment for CompSA may involve a combination of CPAP therapy and medication.
Positional Sleep Apnea (PSA)
Positional sleep apnea (PSA) occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked due to their sleeping position. This form of sleep apnea is characterized by snoring and excessive daytime fatigue. Treatment for PSA may include positional therapy, which involves sleeping in a different position or using special devices to keep the airway open during sleep.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both OSA and CSA and is the least common form of sleep apnea. Patients with mixed sleep apnea may have underlying medical conditions like heart disease or stroke. Treatment for mixed sleep apnea may require a combination of CPAP therapy, medication, or surgery.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea.
Gasping or Choking
In some cases, sleep apnea can cause a person to stop breathing briefly. This can result in gasping or choking sounds during sleep – commonly noticed by someone sharing a room or bed. These sounds usually follow a moment of silence and can leave the person feeling short of breath, alert, or having difficulty getting back to sleep.
Daytime Fatigue and Sleepiness
People with sleep apnea often feel tired and exhausted during the day, even if they got an adequate amount of sleep the night before. The sleep interruptions caused by sleep apnea can result in an un-refreshing night’s sleep, leaving the person feeling deprived and groggy throughout the day.
Many people with sleep apnea feel like they need a nap or experience momentary lapses of drowsiness or sleep when driving, operating machinery, or doing other activities that require sustained attention.
Dry throat or mouth upon waking
People with sleep apnea are mouth breathers, which can lead to a dry mouth or throat. This occurs when the person wakes up gasping for air, causing them to open their mouth to take in more oxygen. If the person has a dry throat or mouth upon waking, they should consider being evaluated for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can cause mood changes and personality alterations. Constant sleep interruptions and lack of restful sleep can lead to anxiety, irritability, and forgetfulness. In children, sleep apnea has been linked to hyperactivity and behavioral issues.
The Health Complications of Sleep Apnea
High Blood Pressure
Sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure or even worsen existing hypertension. When you have apnea, your breathing stops, and you are unable to get enough oxygen through your bloodstream. This causes your blood pressure to increase, putting greater strain on your heart and increasing your risk of heart failure.
Apart from hypertension, sleep apnea can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease. When your breathing stops during sleep, your body’s oxygen levels decrease, which can lead to an accumulation of plaque buildup in the arteries. This, in turn, puts you at a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Sleep apnea can also lead to the development or worsening of type 2 diabetes. Sleep disturbances, especially those that involve low levels of oxygen, can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance, affecting the regulation of blood sugar levels. This can cause insulin resistance and the development of diabetes.
Depression and Anxiety
Sleep apnea can also affect your mental and emotional health. People suffering from apnea may experience frequent bouts of fatigue and daytime sleepiness, which can affect their mood and ability to function. This can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, affecting their overall quality of life.
In some cases, sleep apnea can lead to the development of a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which causes a buildup of fat in the liver. This can cause the liver to become inflamed, leading to an increased risk of liver disease and liver failure.
Risks Factors for Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea causes can also include
- Age (40 or older)
- Male Gender
- Family History
- Alcohol Use
Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea:
If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, consult your doctor. Your doctor will ask you several questions about your sleep habits and may inquire about your family history, medical history, and lifestyle.
A physical examination may also be conducted to check for any abnormalities in the mouth, nose and throat. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist who can conduct a sleep study. A sleep study is a non-invasive test that monitors your breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, brain waves, and muscle activity during sleep.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea:
There are a few simple lifestyle changes that can help ease the symptoms of sleep apnea. These include losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, and sleeping on your side instead of your back. These changes may not completely cure sleep apnea, but they can significantly improve your sleep quality and reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy is a common treatment for sleep apnea. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines use a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth to deliver a continuous stream of air into the airway, which helps keep it open during sleep. While this treatment may take some getting used to, it is highly effective and can significantly improve sleep quality and overall health.
Dental devices are another option for treating sleep apnea. These devices work by repositioning the jaw and tongue to keep the airway open during sleep. While they may not be as effective as CPAP therapy, they can still significantly improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnea.
Inspire therapy is a relatively new treatment for sleep apnea that involves implanting a small device under the skin of the neck. This device stimulates the muscles that control the airway during sleep, helping to keep it open.
While this treatment is highly effective for some patients, it is only recommended for those with moderate to severe sleep apnea who have not responded to other treatments.
The Prevention of Sleep Apnea: Tips and Tricks
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
One of the most effective ways to prevent sleep apnea is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Being overweight is one of the common risk factors associated with sleep apnea. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy weight through proper diet and regular exercise.
Eating a balanced diet, avoiding processed foods, sugary drinks, and alcohol, and exercising regularly can help keep your body healthy, reduce inflammation, and prevent sleep apnea.
Proper Sleeping Position
Sleeping on your back can increase the chances of sleep apnea. Instead, try sleeping on your side or stomach to prevent the collapse of your airways and reduce snoring. If you have difficulty sleeping in these positions, use pillows to help prop up your head and neck and keep your airways open.
Maintain Good Oral Health
Poor oral hygiene and dental problems can contribute to sleep apnea. Brushing and flossing regularly, avoiding tobacco products, and regular visits to the dentist can help maintain good oral health and prevent sleep apnea.
Use Medical Devices
In some cases, medical devices can help prevent sleep apnea. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are commonly used to treat sleep apnea. The machine delivers a steady flow of air to your airways, keeping them open and preventing snoring and sleep apnea. Other devices, like dental appliances, can also be helpful in preventing snoring and sleep apnea in some people.
It is vitally important to take the proper steps in order to address any signs or symptoms of sleep apnea. Simple solutions like improving sleep hygiene and developing healthy habits can help prevent this condition, but if it is present, then it’s critical that you seek medical attention right away.
A quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan can help ensure that your quality of life remains intact, as you will be able to enjoy restorative sleep for many years to come. Sleep apnea may be a disruption, but by using every resource available, you can prevent the repercussions it can have on your health and daily life.
Dr. Steven Davidowitz, also known as “Dr. D” by his patients, is one of the Upper East Side of NYC Manhattan’s leading cosmetic dentists that specialize in designing and maintaining beautiful smiles.