Sleep apnea is a common, but serious, sleep disorder that affects more than 3 million people per year. It occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep, usually by some type of blockage in the airway, such as the soft tissues in the back of the throat collapsing and blocking it off.
When left untreated, sleep apnea sufferers can potentially stop breathing hundreds of times during the night. You wake up when your body’s blood oxygen level drops below a certain point, but you may not even be aware of it and fall asleep again within seconds. Most sleep apnea patients have no idea that they are waking up constantly. They just feel tired the next morning without any idea why.
There are treatments available for sleep apnea, but since the symptoms mostly occur while the patient is asleep, it can be difficult to diagnose. If you find yourself experiencing any of these common symptoms, it might be time to talk with your doctor.
1. Loud snoring. This is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, but of course millions of people also snore for other reasons. If you think someone you love might have sleep apnea, listen for snorting, choking, or gasping sounds while snoring, as those are signs that may indicate the condition. If you exhibit these symptoms, you may want to think about treatment.
2. Interrupted breathing. As we mentioned earlier, sleep apnea means that you literally stop breathing for short periods while you sleep. Patients might appear to stop breathing entirely for a few moments, then make a loud noise (like choking or gasping) when they catch their breath again.
3. Waking abruptly. This one is tough, because if you are the possible sleep apnea patient, you likely will not remember waking up during the night. However, if you have any memories of waking up—especially with shortness of breath—or you see a loved one waking abruptly multiple times while they sleep, it could be a sign that their breath is stopping.
4. Waking with a dry mouth or sore throat. If your mouth is open during the night while you try to breathe, or you are choking and gasping while you sleep, there’s a good chance you’ll wake up with a dry mouth, chapped lips, or a scratchy throat.
5. Morning headache. Because your blood pressure drops when you stop breathing, then rises again after you catch your breath, sleep apnea can cause significant changes in your bloodstream while you sleep. These changes often result in a headache the next morning.
6. Insomnia. Sleep apnea doesn’t just affect you during the night. Sleep deprivation caused by interrupted sleep can have a snowball effect, meaning that the more you don’t sleep, the more difficult it can become to fall asleep. If you have not had issues with insomnia before and are now having problems falling asleep or staying that way, sleep apnea could be the culprit.
7. Feeling tired during the day. This one goes hand in hand with insomnia. If you’re not getting enough deep sleep, you’re going to be tired during the day. Keep tabs on your levels of fatigue, particularly if it hasn’t been a problem before and you haven’t changed any other aspects of your schedule.
8. Irritability, anxiety, or depression. Prolonged, untreated sleep apnea means prolonged, untreated sleep deprivation. This can lead to changes in your mood or more pronounced and intense mood disorders. If you notice that you have been experiencing abnormal attention problems, irritability, anxiety, depression, or other significant changes in your mood, it might be time to consult your healthcare professional.
Treatment of sleep apnea
For patients who suffer from sleep apnea, Dr. Wes Mullins of My Family Dentistry can prescribe sleep apnea devices, like the FDA-approved Dental Crafters’ custom-fit Intraoral Snoring Therapy (IST) Appliance. This dental aid can significantly improve or even eliminate symptoms of sleep apnea. It helps to resolve snoring and sleep apnea by repositioning the jaw and/or tongue, removing the blockage in your airways during sleep to allow more air into your lungs.
Though there are many options available, sleep apnea devices fall into two main groups: those that hold the tongue forward, and those that change the position of the lower jaw. Many sleep apnea devices look like heavy snorkels, put constant pressure on your face, and prevent movement of the mouth and jaw. However, we know that comfort is essential to getting deep, quality sleep, which is why the IST Appliance is fully adjustable and custom-fitted. It allows you to move your mouth while maintaining the jaw in a forward position. Better yet, it doesn’t put any additional pressure on your face while you sleep. It’s the gold standard for safe, effective, comfortable sleep apnea devices.