What Is Sleep Apnea?
The term sleep apnea is derived from the Greek apnoia, which means “breathless.” Literally, sleep apnea is a condition in which sleep is interrupted by a malfunction in your body’s breathing pattern. Unfortunately, because sleep apnea is only directly observable when someone is asleep, it often goes undiagnosed by medical professionals. In reality, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates that over 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Many don’t even know it.
Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
So how do you know whether or not you have sleep apnea? Although we advise against self-diagnosis, common symptoms include:
- Trouble waking up
- Early-morning headaches
- Daytime fatigue
- Impaired cognitive functioning (unexplained forgetfulness, depression, lethargy)
- Trouble sleeping
- Sexual malfunction, difficulty during sexual activity including desire and arousal
- Waking suddenly during the night with a sensation of choking
- Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
If you suspect that you or a loved one suffers from sleep apnea, we suggest consulting a medical professional.
Types Of Sleep Apnea
There are two main types of sleep apnea, and we’ll discuss them in depth below.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person’s upper airway, the passage from the nasal cavity to the larynx (around the base of your chin), becomes blocked during sleep, making breathing difficult.
In most cases of obstructive sleep apnea, a person’s throat muscles relax involuntarily, failing to maintain a pathway large enough for air to flow properly to the lungs. When an obstruction occurs, your chest muscles go into over-drive, literally forcing the airway to reopen. Normal breathing generally begins again with a loud snort or body jerk, which can wake you up or disturb your sleeping partner. Some of our patient’s, more extreme cases, have over 100 such disturbances in one night!
Obviously, sleep apnea interferes with sleeping. It can also put undue strain on your body’s muscles. And because you actually stop breathing during episodes, sleep apnea reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your vital organs, inhibiting them from functioning properly. Most significantly, sleep apnea has been linked to decreased heart function, and an increased incidence of irregular heart rhythm.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is so called because it involves the body’s nervous system, unlike obstructive sleep apnea. A portion of your brain known as the medulla oblongata controls breathing by monitoring the body’s blood supply for carbon dioxide and releasing chemoreceptors when oxygen is needed. Chemoreceptors trigger the muscles around your lungs, forcing you to inhale.
In some people, the brain fails to adequately induce breathing during sleep. Their condition is called central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive, and most often occurs in people who have suffered other medical problems, like heart failure or stroke. Researchers have also found a higher incidence of central sleep apnea in populations that sleep at high altitudes.
What Effects Can Untreated Sleep Apnea Have?
Sleep apnea is more prevalent in men than women, and the chance of developing the condition increases as you age. Besides chronic daytime drowsiness and the other attendant effects of getting less sleep than you should, sleep apnea has been clinically linked to:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack and failure
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
Obviously, sleep apnea is a serious condition, that can have numerous detrimental effects on your health and over-all wellbeing.
At the Art of Dentistry, we believe that sleep apnea should be confronted head-on. But we also recognize that every sleep apnea sufferer’s situation is different. That’s why we offer personalized treatment options, rather than a one-size-fits-all program. Visit our contact page or call our office at (610) 527-6700 to begin reviewing your choices. And for goodness’ sake, get some sleep.