Sleep Apnea: More Than Just Snoring
If you live with someone who snores constantly, you probably find it pretty annoying. Whether you share a bed, a room, or the same hallway, you may be disturbed — nightly — by the sounds that come from your family member or friend.
It’s one thing to snore from time to time (everyone does that), but this snoring is so loud. If this person’s snoring is interrupted only when he or she seems to stop breathing, then your loved one may have sleep apnea.
We can help. Sunrise Dental offers sleep apnea treatment at each of our dentist offices, located in Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, and Durham.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
First and foremost, it is a sleep disorder. This is a condition that interferes with someone’s normal pattern of sleep.
Sleep is necessary for our long-term health, and healthy sleep includes four stages. We have three stages of non-REM sleep and one stage of REM sleep. (REM is short for rapid eye movement.)
The third stage of non-REM sleep and the REM stage are the deepest levels of sleep.
In the third non-REM stage, our brain patterns change. Our breathing and heart rates slow, and our blood pressure is at its lowest. Scientists believe this stage of sleep is important to help us recover from the previous days activity.
REM is the stage when we dream.
People with sleep apnea may never reach these deeper stages of sleep. The reason is that their bodies have difficulty breathing when they are asleep.
People with obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type of sleep apnea) have trouble breathing because their airways become blocked. The muscles around their airways relax to a point that soft tissue can restrict their airways.
To fight this, their bodies will wake them up dozens of times every hour just long enough so they can breathe. These awakenings are so brief that the individuals usually have no memory that they occur.
Nevertheless, every time they wake, they are effectively resetting their sleep cycle. If they never or rarely reach the deep stages of sleep, they can wake up feeling just as tired as they felt when they went to bed.
Health Risks And Sleep Apnea
The symptoms of sleep apnea can include morning headaches, irritability, and daytime fatigue. These symptoms may give us clues about other health risks that are closely associated with untreated sleep apnea, such as:
Due to their sleep deprivation (from not getting enough healthy sleep), people with sleep apnea are more likely to fall asleep during the day. If this happens at a desk, it might be embarrassing. If this happens behind the wheel … well, you understand.
- Accidents — This can include small accidents, but we are more concerned about automobile accidents. A study published last year in the journal Sleep found that people with sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to be involved in a car crash than people without sleep apnea.
Treating Sleep Apnea
To alleviate the effects of sleep apnea, a person with this disorder needs to be able to breathe easier at night.
The first step is having a sleep study done. Sunrise Dental can help your family member or friend arrange one of these studies.
Once his or her sleep apnea has been confirmed, he or she may be prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. To use this, he or she will wear a mask at night. This allows the CPAP to push air into his or her airway to keep them open.
Many people find this an effective treatment, but many others find the CPAP problematic. The mask can be irritating. The noise of the machine may keep him or her awake. Other people take their masks off in their sleep.
As an alternative, our dentists can create an oral appliance for him or her to wear overnight. This is like a mouthguard that adjusts the position of his or her jaw. That change keeps his or her airways open so he or she can breathe.
Help Your Loved One So You Both Sleep Better
Your loved one’s snoring may be just that, or it may be a symptom of sleep apnea. In either case, it’s preventing him or her from getting healthy sleep, and it’s interfering with your sleep, too.
If you live near Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, or Durham, encourage your loved one to talk to one of our dentists soon. We can be reached by phone or by filling out an online form.
- Heart problems — Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. People with sleep apnea are more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes, and they are more likely to have high blood pressure, which can contribute to cardiovascular problems.
- Diabetes — People with sleep apnea are more likely to have diabetes. Waking up frequently throughout the night can make it harder for someone’s body to control his or her blood sugar levels.