DEFINING SLEEP APNEA
In simple terms, apnea is a sleeping disorder wherein a person stops breathing. This results in snoring, gasping for air, or waking up hundreds of times per night to hard-reset the body into breathing again. The disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. But even with mild sleep apnea, your body is jolting you awake every 12 minutes, so what little sleep you do manage to get is not quality sleep and not restful. Imagine how often you’re jolted awake with moderate or severe apnea – potentially hundreds of times per night.
CAUSES OF SLEEP APNEA
Three kinds of sleep apnea are recognized, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is caused by a collapse of the airway while asleep, causing breathing to cease. These breathing pauses can last anywhere from seconds to longer than a minute. When the brain registers a lack of oxygen, it sends the body a shock signal to wake it up so that you can resume breathing.
There are a number of reasons an airway closes and the most common is an abundance of fatty tissue in the neck. The weight of this tissue applies pressure to the throat muscles, which, when relaxed during sleep, can partially or completely block the airway. Extra tissue in the back of the throat can also be present in patients with a large tongue, tonsils, or adenoids, which is common with children. Aging and the weakening of the muscles is another reason these throat muscles become loose and collapse during sleep.
These breathing pauses and subsequent jolts back to breathing disrupt your deep sleep patterns, leaving you feeling fatigued and exhausted during the day, even if you got into bed early the night before.
SLEEP APNEA IS A THEIF
Sleep interruption and shortness of breath can take a serious toll on the body. Think about how your body would respond if you ran straight up a hill or a few flights of stairs. Most people would feel tired, hunched over trying to catch their breath as their heart beats really fast to compensate for their organs needing more oxygen. That’s how your body responds to each apnea episode. Sleep apnea is like running up a hill all night long, your body never gets an opportunity to fully rest, which means it is robbed of the precious time it needs to repair itself.
The consequences of untreated sleep apnea have also been linked to dozens of other diseases, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, moodiness, fatigue and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Treat sleep apnea and you help treat these issues too, which, on average can add 7 years to your life. What could you do with 7 more years?
SOLUTIONS THAT FIT
Several proven treatments are available for sleep apnea. The most common—and most effective—are the CPAP machines and oral appliances.
Oral Appliances: This is a quieter, less invasive alternative to a CPAP. Oral appliances look a lot like mouthguards, but they are custom made for proper fit and effectiveness. Think about what is taught in CPR classes—one of the first steps is to lift the chin to open the airway. This is basically how oral appliances work—they help position the lower jaw forward to open the airway. This simple adjustment in jaw position keeps the airway from collapsing and you from the chronic exhaustion of waking up over and over.
The overarching benefit of oral appliance therapy is that it provides effective treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea (and sometimes severe), which means a good night’s sleep for both the person wearing the appliance and their bed partner. Oral appliances tend to be comfortable, quiet, portable, great for travel, easy to wear, and easy to clean.