Sleep Apnea & Snoring

Sleep Apnea & Snoring

Sleep apnea is a common, usually chronic, sleeping disorder in which a person’s breathing abnormally pauses during the night.  These pauses, or sleep apnea "episodes", in breathing can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and may occur five to 30 times or more during an hour.

There are three common types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is the most common type of Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is when your breathing stops because your airway is narrowed, blocked or floppy.

  • Central Sleep Apnea: The least common type of Sleep Apnea. Central Sleep Apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. Unlike Obstructive Sleep Apnea, those affected with this type of sleep apnea rarely snore.

  • Complex Sleep Apnea: Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea. Complex Sleep Apnea emerges usually during attempts to treat obstructive sleep apnea with a CPAP or bi-level device

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Unfortunately, those with Sleep Apnea are rarely aware of it because most symptoms occur when a person is asleep. If able, ask your bed partner to observe your sleep patterns or record yourself while sleeping. Consult your doctor if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • Excessive daytime fatigue
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless or fitful sleep 
  • Going to the bathroom frequently during the night
  • Choking, snorting or gasping during sleep
  • Moodiness, irritability or depression

Snoring

A common symptom of Sleep Apnea is snoring; however, not everyone who snores has Sleep Apnea and not everyone who has Sleep Apnea snores. Snoring is a harsh sound occurring when your airways are obstructed. Obstruction or blockage of airways can be caused by a number of factors including throat weakness, mis-positioned jaw, the tongue dropping to the back of the mouth, tissues at the top of the airways touch, age, weight and relaxants such as alcohol or drugs. 

Risk Factors and Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea can be caused by a number of factors and can affect anybody; however, there are certain risk factors that can put you at higher risk.

  • Excessive weight:  Excessive weight can cause your upper way to be obstructed by fatty deposits.

  • Neck circumference: It has been found that those with a thicker neck may have a narrower airway

  • Gender:  Males are twice more likely to have Sleep Apnea than females. Females have a higher risk if they are overweight or after menopause

  • Age: The occurrence of Sleep Apnea is greater in adults older than 60.

  • Heart disorders: Those with heart disorders such as congestive heart failure are at higher risk for Central Sleep Apnea

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

If you suspect you have Sleep Apnea, start by keeping a sleep diary for one to two weeks. Write down when you go to sleep, when you wake up, as well as, how rested and alert you feel throughout the day. Make sure to take detailed and accurate notes and bring the diary with you to your next doctor’s appointment.  Discuss with your doctor your sleep concerns, in addition to, any family history of sleeping disorders. If your doctor feels it is necessary, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist.  A sleep specialist can more accurately diagnose sleep apnea and or other conditions at a sleep lab or with a home-based sleep test using a monitor. 

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

If left untreated, Sleep Apnea can result in serious health problems including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and weight gain. Fortunately, Sleep Apnea is easily treatable and those affected are able to start enjoying a healthier sleep without difficulty. Treatment options for Sleep Apnea range depending on severity. For those with mild sleep apnea, simple changes in daily activities and behaviors could solve the issue. 

  • Lose Weight: If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can improve your symptoms, however, it is important to remember that weight is not always a contributing factor to Sleep Apnea. 

  • Stop Smoking: Smoking causes harmful damage on your lungs. Quitting smoking will greatly alleviate your sleep apnea symptoms.  

  • Open Nasal Passages: Try increasing airflow through your nasal passages with the use of breathing strips, a neti pot or breathing strips.

  • Sleep on Your Side: If you normally sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side. When sleeping on your back, gravity makes it more likely your tongue and other soft tissues will drop, obstructing your airways. 

  • Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives: Alcohol and Sedatives relax your throat muscles, interfering with breathing

  • Mouth guards:  commercially available mouth guards are available without prescription that gently pull the lower jaw forward which increases the airway in the back of the throat.

Medical Treatment Options

If you find you suffer from a more severe form of Sleep Apnea and have altered lifestyle activities and behaviors, seek medical attention from a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist will be able to find an effective treatment plan for you by evaluating your symptoms. 

  • Mouthpiece: Mouthpieces, or oral appliances, can be created by your orthodontist to adjust your lower jaw and tongue to help keep your airways open while you sleep.

  • PAP Machine: A PAP ( Positive Airway Pressure) machine is the most common medical treatment option for Sleep Apnea in Adults. The machine gently blows air into your throat or nose through a mask or other breathing apperati that fits over your mouth and/or nose.

  • Surgery: While not common, there are few adults who may benefit from surgical treatment options. This type of surgery is usually done to widen breathing passages by removing or stiffening excess tissue in the mouth and throat or resetting the lower jaw.