Studies conducted by experts in cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University have shown that people with sleep apnea are five times more likely to develop atrial fibrillation and have a 60% increased risk of sleep apnea related strokes. This connection between sleep apnea and stroke risk makes untreated OSA even more serious.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition where someone stops breathing multiple times while sleeping because their airways have become blocked or obstructed, usually by the back of the tongue. This can occur as many as 80 to 120 times per hour, and often a person can stop breathing for a dangerously long period of time. Each time your breathing stops, your heart rate and blood pressure increase and dangerously low levels of oxygen are created in the body.
Health Complications of Untreated OSA
Untreated OSA creates short-term and long-term health issues that can degrade a person’s quality of life. In some cases, untreated obstructive sleep apnea may potentially incapacitate affected individuals. When OSA is left untreated, the short-term symptoms a person experiences can lead to chronic long-term issues.
People who have untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may begin to experience health issues like high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes at an earlier age. Additionally, if sleep apnea goes ignored, they may also experience cognitive problems like poor concentration and memory loss or early-onset dementia at younger ages than is typical.
A multitude of symptoms are associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Short-term effects experienced by people with untreated OSA include excessive daytime sleepiness, interrupted sleep, reduced deep sleep, poor sleep quality, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
When left untreated, OSA begins to impact overall health in ways that become long-term issues. Untreated sleep apnea can be a precursor to several chronic and/or debilitating health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, and stroke, type 2 diabetes
The Connection Between Stroke Risk and Sleep Apnea
Researchers who have conducted sleep studies have discovered a connection between sleep apnea and stroke risk. If you experience more sleep problems, your risk for sleep apnea–related strokes increases. Factors that contribute to poor-quality sleep like restless sleep, snoring, snorting, nighttime awakenings, napping for a long time during the day, and sleeping too little or even too much all contribute to poor-quality sleep and can increase your risk of suffering a stroke.
Previous research has linked unhealthy, poor-quality sleep to blood vessel impairments and high blood pressure, which are risk factors for stroke. According to PhD researcher Dr. Christine McCarthy, a stroke and geriatric medicine physician with the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Galway in Ireland, an individual’s risk of stroke increases with the number of sleep issues they experience. For someone who has sleep apnea, experiencing more than five sleep apnea symptoms can lead to five times the risk of stroke in comparison to people who do not have sleep problems.
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Stroke?
Reducing the negative impact of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders will also reduce your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Some of the main ways you can reduce the negative impact of sleep apnea are practicing good sleep hygiene, getting regular physical activity, and eating a healthy way.
Improving poor sleep hygiene can be challenging at times, but the benefits of decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea–related stroke are worth it. Poor sleep hygiene can be improved by getting a consistent amount of uninterrupted sleep each night. Your goal should be about seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, which means you may need to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day of the week. Studies have shown that getting about seven hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is associated with the least amount of cardiovascular disease.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Sleep apnea has several signs and symptoms, but it’s easy to mistake many of the signs and symptoms as something else since they can be confusing. For example, many people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) snore, but not everyone who snores has OSA.
Everyone with sleep apnea doesn’t experience every symptom or the same symptoms. Usually, sleep apnea symptoms are noticed by someone who sleeps in the same house as a person who suffers from sleep apnea. Depending on the severity of their sleep-disordered breathing, most patients present with at least a few of the following symptoms:
excessive daytime sleepiness
fatigue after a full night’s sleep
frequent nighttime awakenings
frequent nighttime urination
morning dry mouth
restlessness during sleep
waking up gasping for air or choking
waking up with a sore throat
Treating OSA to Improve Health and Reduce Risk
Treating OSA will reduce risk of stroke and other health conditions. Your treatment plan may include lifestyle changes such as increased and/or frequent physical activity, weight loss when indicated, and avoiding alcohol and sedative medications before bedtime. Nonsurgical treatment options that might be a part of your treatment plan include the use of oral appliances, nasal resistors, oropharyngeal exercises, positional therapy, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.
To manage obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and its symptoms effectively and improve your health, it’s extremely important that you are compliant with your sleep apnea treatment plan. Unfortunately, many people who try CPAP therapy may find compliance with their treatment challenging when they discover they struggle with using the machine or cannot tolerate the mask or the noise.
For patients diagnosed with mild or moderate sleep apnea, FDA-registered oral appliances can be used to treat their sleep apnea. A qualified dentist trained in dental sleep medicine will choose the right oral appliance for you based on factors such as degree of snoring and mouth size. Oral appliances are an effective treatment option that can reduce your risk of sleep apnea related strokes, and many people find oral appliances to be comfortable and relatively nonintrusive.
Learn how you can sever the connection between sleep apnea and stroke risk in your life with effective treatment through Sleep Better Columbus. Call us at 614-777-7350 or contact us online.
Research has shown a connection exists between sleep apnea and aging. When obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is left untreated and deprives someone of healthy sleep long-term, they age more quickly.
What Happens to Your Body with Untreated OSA?
Untreated OSA creates short-term and long-term health issues that can degrade a person’s quality of life. In some cases, untreated obstructive sleep apnea may potentially incapacitate affected individuals.
People who have untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may begin to experience health issues like high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes at an earlier age. Additionally, if sleep apnea goes ignored, they may also experience cognitive problems like poor concentration and memory loss or early-onset dementia at younger ages than is typical.
Short-Term Effects of OSA
A multitude of symptoms are associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Short-term effects experienced by people with untreated OSA include excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, interrupted sleep, reduced deep sleep, poor sleep quality, fatigue, and lack of concentration.
If obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is left untreated, short-term symptoms can lead to chronic long-term issues.
Long-Term Effects of OSA
When left untreated, OSA begins to impact overall health in ways that become long-term issues. Untreated sleep apnea can be a precursor to several chronic and/or debilitating health conditions such as:
Adult asthma: sleep apnea can increase your risk of asthma complications and worsen your symptoms.
Heart problems: OSA has been linked to cardiovascular disease, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, and stroke.
High blood pressure (hypertension): sleep apnea can increase your risk for high blood pressure overall and your chance of developing it at a younger age.
High blood sugar: sleep apnea increases the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, and if you already have Type 2 diabetes, loss of sleep from sleep apnea can make it worse.
Liver problems: sleep apnea has been linked to higher-than-average liver enzymes and fatty liver disease.
Low blood oxygen levels: over time, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can deprive your body of essential oxygen, which can affect the health of your body tissue and organ tissue.
Mental health issues: untreated sleep apnea can lead to anxiety and depression or worsen these conditions if you already have them; it can also cause mental confusion, poor concentration, memory loss, dementia, and other cognitive challenges.
Weakened immune system: deprivation of sleep and poor sleep quality from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can weaken your immune system and leave you more susceptible to infections and illnesses as well as extend the amount of time it takes to heal.
A timely diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and the appropriate treatment of sleep apnea may help manage these chronic conditions as well as other conditions that have been connected to sleep apnea like chronic insomnia, sexual dysfunction, metabolic syndrome, vision impairment, and chronic kidney disease.
How Sleep Apnea Affects Aging
When obstructive sleep apnea is left untreated, it also accelerates your biological aging process. Biological aging is the cell breakdown process that eventually leads to muscle weakness, issues with cognitive functions, and other health problems common in older age.
Sleep apnea may also accelerate the aging process. Consistent and chronic deprivation of sleep will begin to deteriorate your body the same way that aging does.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Can Slow Premature Aging
While sleep apnea can affect aging in negative ways, consistently following an appropriate treatment plan can slow premature aging or potentially reverse the trend created by untreated sleep apnea.
When patients are compliant with OSA treatments, the sleep apnea treatments will restore good nighttime oxygenation and minimize the number of their sleep disruptions, which, in turn, will promote sleep that is restful and of good quality.
OSA Treatment That Works for You
There are several treatment options for OSA, and you and your doctor will work together to find the best treatment that works for you. Treatment plans may include lifestyle changes like avoiding alcohol and sedative medications before bedtime, frequent and/or increased physical exercise, and weight loss when indicated. Other nonsurgical treatment options include oropharyngeal exercises, positional therapy, the use of oral appliances, nasal resistors, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines.
Compliance with your sleep apnea treatment plan is important to effectively manage obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and its associated symptoms. However, many people who try CPAP therapy may have difficulties being compliant since they struggle with using the machine, cannot tolerate the mask or the noise, or have issues with the inconvenience of traveling with a CPAP machine.
If you have been diagnosed with mild or moderate sleep apnea, FDA-registered oral appliances are available as a treatment option. A qualified dentist trained in dental sleep medicine will choose the right oral appliance for you based on a number of factors such as mouth size and degree of snoring. These appliances are comfortable and relatively non-intrusive. Many people find they make it easier to be compliant with their sleep apnea treatment so they can begin effectively treating symptoms attributed to the link between sleep apnea and aging.
Contact Sleep Better Columbus today either online or by calling 614-777-7350 to find out if you’re a candidate for oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea and put a stop to premature aging.
Sleep divorce, an unconventional concept where couples choose to sleep separately for a better night’s rest, is gaining traction. Recent studies suggest that one in three Americans are opting for this arrangement, particularly among couples dealing with conditions like sleep apnea and snoring.
Research indicates that when one bed partner experiences a sleep disorder or sleep-disordered breathing, it can have a detrimental impact on the other person’s sleep quality and overall well-being. The close proximity and shared sleeping environment can amplify the effects, highlighting the importance of addressing and seeking treatment for sleep-related issues to promote harmonious and restful sleep for both individuals involved.
Sleep Disordered Breathing and Its Impact on Relationships
Whilst a sleep divorce can provide relief from the noise and disruptions associated with certain sleep disorders, it also comes at a cost. The absence of physical contact while sleeping can create emotional distance between partners, potentially leading to feelings of isolation or loneliness.
When romantic partners sleep next to one another, their bodies release oxytocin and other chemicals known as the “cuddling hormones.” These hormones foster a sense of closeness between couples. Nevertheless, while these hormones play a significant role, they alone cannot offset the detrimental and long-lasting impacts of a lack of quality sleep.
A sleep divorce can also have detrimental impacts on relationships over time as feelings of resentment can surface, particularly if one partner feels like they are being forced or coerced into sleeping separately.
A Better Alternative to Sleep Divorce: Treating Sleep Apnea
Instead of resorting to a sleep divorce, couples can proactively take steps to address the underlying causes of their sleep-related issues. With the advancements in treatment options for sleep apnea and other related conditions, finding effective solutions has never been easier or more accessible.
The Impact of Sleep Apnea on Sleep Quality
Sleep apnea, particularly Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), is a common sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These disruptions can lead to poor sleep quality, daytime fatigue, and a host of other health complications.
It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea. A proper diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve sleep quality and overall health. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional for guidance and support.
Snoring, a common symptom of OSA, can also disrupt a partner’s sleep, leading to frustration and strained relationships. In addition to snoring, people who suffer from sleep apnea often experience restless sleep, waking up gasping or choking, and twitches and jerks that not only disrupt their own sleep but their partner’s sleep as well.
The effects of sleep apnea don’t stop when the sufferer wakes up, however. Sleep apnea often results in excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability, moodiness, forgetfulness, headaches, and other physical and mental conditions that can lead to problems in the relationship or even outside the home at the workplace and in social situations.
These are other reasons why it is so important to seek sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment.
The Role of Sleep Specialists
Sleep apnea, particularly obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), can have serious effects on overall health, going beyond just disrupted sleep. Left untreated, OSA can lead to higher risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. By treating sleep apnea, you’re not only improving your sleep but also taking a significant step towards better overall health.
Professional sleep specialists play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders like sleep apnea. A sleep apnea professional brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. They can provide a comprehensive understanding of your condition, helping you navigate the complexities of sleep apnea. From explaining the underlying causes of your specific form of sleep apnea to exploring how it impacts your overall health and daily life, they equip you with the necessary information to better manage your condition.
Additionally, they guide you through the plethora of treatment options, taking into account your personal needs, lifestyle, and preferences. This helps you make an informed decision about your treatment plan, ensuring it’s not only effective for addressing your sleep apnea but also sustainable in the long run. By collaborating with a sleep apnea specialist, you become an active participant in your healthcare journey, taking strategic steps towards improved sleep quality and overall health.
Navigating the World of Sleep Apnea Treatments
Treating obstructive sleep apnea can drastically improve sleep quality and relationship dynamics. Common solutions include:
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy: This involves using a machine to keep your airway open while you sleep. However, some partners find the noise from CPAP machines disruptive, contributing to the rise of sleep divorce.
Weight Loss: Obesity is a major risk factor for OSA. Losing weight can reduce the severity of sleep apnea symptoms.
Dietary Changes: Avoiding alcohol, sedatives, and certain foods before bedtime can help decrease episodes of sleep-disordered breathing.
Oral Appliances: These devices, worn in the mouth like orthodontic retainers or sports mouthguards, can be a quieter solution for treating sleep apnea. They adjust the position of your lower jaw and tongue to help keep your airways open while you sleep.
Ending Sleep Divorce Through Sleep Apnea Treatment
While sleep divorce may offer temporary relief from the lack of sleep caused by sleep-disordered breathing, it often doesn’t address the root cause and it could create emotional distance between partners.
Treating sleep apnea can help couples end their sleep divorce and return to sharing a bed. Treatment improves both sleep quality and relationship dynamics, making it a win-win situation for couples and everyone’s overall health. Improved sleep quality can lead to increased daytime alertness, improvements in mood, memory, and concentration, as well as enhanced relationship satisfaction.
Consult with a sleep specialist at Sleep Better Columbus to determine the most effective treatment option for your unique sleep apnea situation.
To learn more about sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment, contact the professionals at Sleep Better Columbus online or at (614) 777-7350 today for a consultation and take the first steps toward better sleep.
Adults are very susceptible to snoring. About half of all people have snored at some time in their life. According to statistics, 25% of those who snore regularly are habitual. You might have an annoying partner or snore so much that you are unable to sleep at night. People often ignore the fact that snoring is not a good sign. Despite popular belief, snoring doesn’t mean you’re sleeping deeply. This is often an indicator of a larger problem.
Although there are many sleep disorders that can cause snoring to occur, the most common is sleep apnea. Sleep disorder is sleep apnea, which affects the throat. Sleep apnea is a condition in which the muscles at the back of your throat are unable to keep the airway open. It doesn’t result in a good night of sleep. A person may stop breathing for as long as 10 seconds, while their throat is closing. It can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn leads to poor sleep. It could be a problem if you are prone to snoring and wake up tired every morning.
It’s important to get checked if you think you may have sleep apnea. It is important to get your sleep apnea diagnosed as soon as possible so that you can begin working on eliminating it. It’s not a time for panic if you have been diagnosed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18,000,000 Americans suffer from sleep apnea. This doesn’t include all other countries. This is a very common condition. The good news is that it can be treated. You can cure it.
How can I treat sleep apnea?
There are many reasons that sleep apnea may occur in different people. Although no one can be exempt from suffering from sleep apnea (which is possible), certain people are more likely to experience it. Some risk factors that can lead to sleep apnea include, but are not limited:
Upper airways for small amounts
The family history
An elongated chin
Excessive alcohol use
Age 40 and above
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
We’ve already discussed that snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea. Did you know there were other signs to watch out for? These symptoms are:
After you have been properly diagnosed, make sure to see a professional. Don’t try to diagnose yourself! It is now time to act. It is not possible to get rid of sleep apnea by itself. If you desire more energy and better sleeping, it is important to make dietary changes as well as seek medical intervention. It can seem overwhelming to be presented with all of the options. It can be overwhelming to decide what your next steps should be. Every doctor will offer their opinion. Let’s first look at all the choices that are available to us.
Your lifestyle is the most important change that you’ll be required to make. Many people suffer from sleep apnea because of poor diets and insufficient exercise. Losing weight is more challenging after a certain age. You have many options when you want to lose weight. You will need to get started on your mobility and diet.
Some people may experience significant changes when they go on sleep apnea treatments. Some foods should be avoided, and others must be eaten more often. It is important to eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoiding heavy and greasy food is also advisable. If you are looking to lose weight or feel healthier, alcohol must be eliminated completely from your diet. Saturated fats are often linked to obesity so it’s important to eliminate red meat, fast food, and other unhealthy foods. It is also a good idea to quit smoking.
Also, you’ll be required to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. You can do anything, from walking each day to high-intensity cardio. Start small, particularly if your previous exercise habits have been very sedentary. You can’t stop yourself from starting a routine of exercise by going all-in immediately only to fail and then giving up. You can start slowly and increase your heart rate at your own speed until you feel comfortable.
You can take other steps if diet and exercise have not worked for you.
CPAP machines have become very popular among sleep apnea sufferers. This is essentially a mask you use at night. The mask covers your mouth and nose and pushes oxygen through the tube. This ensures that you have a constant oxygen supply throughout the night. They work well for certain people. They can be a challenge for others. They can be very difficult on partners. These people can be quite noisy. These devices can also be uncomfortable and limit the position of your sleep. A CPAP can cause sensitive skin problems for people who have it. It may be too aggressive in the mouth and nose area.
Because they are less invasive, oral appliances can often be preferred to CPAP. The positioning of your jaw, while you sleep, can be improved by dental devices. This allows for more airflow through your throat. This is a great option for those who can’t tolerate CPAP or don’t wish to use it. They are less intrusive and easier to use. Sleep Better Columbus (614) 777-7350 can help reduce the severity of sleep apnea, improve your quality of life and even eliminate it altogether.
There are many options available for sleep apnea treatments. There’s no need to do anything that you don’t like. It can be scary to have sleep apnea. You’ll do fine if you take proper care.
Getting a good night’s sleep can make or break your day when you wake up. If you’ve had a good night’s sleep then you’re feeling fresh to start your day. But the effects of sleep deprivation can cause you to wake up cranky, groggy, and feeling like you’re dragging all day long with excessive daytime sleepiness.
Just as there are many reasons why you may be sleep deprived, there are just as many ways to improve healthy sleep habits. Understanding what’s causing your poor sleep quality is just as important as improving it. Fixing your sleep issues isn’t always as easy as taking a sleeping pill or other sleep aids. Poor sleep quality could be a sign of a much more serious health problem.
That’s where sleep medicine comes in. It can determine if you have a sleep disorder or medical problem that is keeping you up all night. It’s estimated that 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. If you think you’re part of this group, you’re probably looking for help. That’s where seeking the help of a sleep medicine professional can change the way you sleep.
What is Sleep Medicine?
Sleep medicine takes a look at sleep disorders. When you see a doctor who is a sleep medicine specialist, they are trained to look for sleep disorders. An accredited sleep physician is familiar with a variety of sleep problems including:
Pediatric sleep problems
Circadian rhythm disorders
Restless leg syndrome
And a variety of other types of sleeping disorders and issues
Sleep medicine can help to treat several different types of issues. Let’s take a look at what a sleep medicine specialist can help treat.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea can be a serious condition. When someone has OSA, they may stop breathing frequently during the night. This can be due to a blocked airway, or the brain not sending the right signals to breathe. Throughout the night, people can stop breathing for as long as 40 seconds. During this time, your brain wakes up, causing you to move and resume breathing.
A common sign of OSA is snoring or a sound like someone is choking or gasping for air. Sleep apnea can cause the level of oxygen in the blood to drop. This leads to restlessness, waking up abruptly, and poor sleep. Since OSA interrupts your sleep, you are left feeling groggy which can lead to poor productivity at work and can put you at a greater risk of getting into a car accident because you’re not as alert as you should be.
Many people don’t know they have this condition until someone observes them sleeping. They may feel fatigued, but not realize that they are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
Besides getting a poor night’s sleep, obstructive sleep apnea can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. Several treatments can help improve poor sleep quality associated with OSA. This includes a customized mouth guard that’s worn at night or the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
Many people with sleep apnea don’t like using continuous positive airway pressure machines and prefer an oral appliance to help them with their obstructive sleep apnea. At Sleep Better Columbus, we can help you find the one that is most comfortable and suits your needs. These oral appliances work to move the lower jaw forward to open the airway and unblock your windpipe. This can improve breathing at night and help people sleep better.
FDA-registered oral appliances can be used to treat sleep apnea when they are given by a qualified dentist trained in dental sleep medicine.
For some people, losing weight can also help to treat sleep apnea. Some people who are obese and suffer from OSA are advised to lose weight to also help with their apnea issues. But losing weight isn’t always enough. This is why it’s a good idea to request an appointment with someone experienced with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as well as special training for diagnosing and treating OSA.
If you think you have sleep apnea, it’s best to get the treatment you need to get a better night’s sleep and improve your overall health.
Besides sleep apnea, sleep medicine also addresses the issue of primary insomnia. You may be suffering from primary insomnia if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up frequently during the night. If this happens for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from primary chronic insomnia.
Primary insomnia may be caused by anxiety, depression, too much caffeine, or certain medications. When you don’t sleep properly, your body is not getting the time it needs to repair and restore it. This leads to many problems including tiredness during the day and poor decision-making.
When your insomnia lasts for three months or more, it is considered chronic and can lead to even more problems. Seeking the help of a sleep medicine specialist can help to alleviate the problems that are leading to your insomnia.
When you’re asking what is sleep medicine, narcolepsy also needs to be addressed. Narcolepsy not only disrupts people’s sleep during the night but also makes them sleepy during the day. They feel overwhelmingly tired and have trouble fighting off the urge to sleep. Sometimes people even fall asleep while they’re trying to have a conversation.
This is especially dangerous because it can happen when people are driving and even eating. The dangers of this are obvious because people can get into an accident and even choke when they’re eating.
A sleep specialist can help people with narcolepsy so that they can feel more awake and not be at risk of hurting themselves or someone else.
Call us for Sleep Medicine Help
At Sleep Better Columbus, we want to help you sleep better. We can answer your questions when it comes to what is sleep medicine and provides you with the help you need to get a better night’s sleep. We are dedicated to staying on top of sleep research to be able to provide our patients with a diagnosis based on their unique symptoms. We’ll then provide a treatment program to help you improve your sleep hygiene to help put an end to your sleep disturbances and sleep problems. Dr. Mark Levy, a sleep specialist, and his team are trained in providing help to those suffering from sleep apnea.
They can help people with sleep apnea, snoring, and many of the conditions that can go along with them, like teeth grinding and fatigue. When you have your sleep issues addressed, you’ll regain your health, vitality, energy, and improve your overall quality of life. Dr. Levy and his team also help patients with sleep education and to understand the effects of sleep disorders. Healthy sleep behaviors and habits are vital to living a healthy, happy life.
The team at Sleep Better Columbus can help with diagnosis and testing. Request an appointment today at 614-362-7292 to find out more about sleep research and sleep hygiene and how sleep specialists can help you.
Many people wear a CPAP machine at night to treat the interrupted breathing of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that affects an estimated 22 million Americans. But CPAP machines can be noisy, cumbersome and uncomfortable, and many people stop using the devices altogether, which can have dire long-term consequences.
Mouth guards may be a more comfortable and easy-to-use alternative for many people with obstructive sleep apnea, according to a new report. The study, published in Laryngoscope, looked at 347 people with sleep apnea who were fitted with a mouth guard by an otolaryngologist. Two-thirds of patients reported they were comfortable wearing the devices, and the devices appeared to be effective in helping to relieve the disordered breathing of obstructive sleep apnea.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Guillaume Buiret, head of otolaryngology at Valence Hospital in Valence, France, said that if he had sleep apnea, he would choose an oral appliance first.
“It’s easy to tolerate, effective and it costs a lot less than CPAP,” he said. “Thirty to 40 percent of our patients can’t use CPAP, and these patients almost always find the dental appliance helpful. I would recommend it as a first-line treatment”
Loud snoring may be the most obvious consequence of sleep apnea, but the condition, if left untreated, can lead to a broad range of complications, including high blood pressure, heart disease, liver dysfunction and Type 2 diabetes.
The problem develops when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway. This leads to breathing cessation for brief periods, gasping for air, difficulty staying asleep, and all the problems of daytime sleepiness, from poor job performance to fatal accidents. Animals can have it too — bulldogs, for example, have a narrow airway and a soft palate that can easily block it. Their sleep apnea is almost identical to the human version.
The severity of the condition varies widely from a very mild problem that may need no treatment at all to severe or even life-threatening disease. Dr. Sara E. Benjamin, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Johns Hopkins, said that spending a night in a sleep laboratory monitored by a technician is the best way to diagnose apnea. A lab study offers the most thorough analysis, and can detect many other sleep problems besides apnea, but there are home test kits that are easy to use and cost-effective. They test breathing effort and oxygen levels, but not the brain waves, muscle tone and leg movements that a lab test records.
How can you know that you need a sleep assessment? “It’s a low standard to get evaluated, either by home testing or in a sleep lab,” Dr. Benjamin said. “If a person feels sleep problems are impacting daily activities, that’s enough to go and get evaluated. If the cause is a breathing problem, you don’t want to ignore it.”
A CPAP — continuous positive airway pressure — machine is usually the first option for treating sleep apnea. The device has a motor that delivers pressurized air through a tube attached to a mask that covers the nose, or both the nose and the mouth. This keeps the airway open. Some machines can automatically change the pressure to compensate for changes in sleep position; others require manual adjustment. Headgear varies, but all have adjustable straps to get the right fit. There are newer models that can deliver heated or humidified air, depending on the patient’s preferences, and there are small travel models as well.
“We recommend a custom device made by a dentist,” Dr. Benjamin said. “And you should be retested to see how well it’s working. There’s subjective and objective improvement that should be tracked.”
But there are people for whom neither CPAP nor dental appliances work, either because they cannot use them consistently or correctly, or because the devices themselves do not solve the problem even when used properly. For these patients, there are various effective surgical procedures.
The most common is soft tissue surgery, which involves modifying or excising tissue at the back of the mouth. Depending on the structures and musculature of the mouth, the surgeon can trim the soft palate and the uvula, remove the tonsils, shrink tissues with a heated instrument, straighten a deviated septum, or alter the position of the tongue muscles, all with the aim of improving air flow.
There are also bone surgeries that move the jaw forward to make the entire breathing space larger, a procedure that can involve a protracted recovery period.
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration approved a device called Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation. This is a small appliance implanted under the skin like a heart pacemaker. Using two electrical leads, it senses the breathing pattern and stimulates the nerve that controls the tongue to move it out of the way and allow air to pass freely. Implanting it is a day surgery procedure that takes about two hours.
“It doesn’t change the anatomy, and recovery is easier than with other surgeries,” said Dr. Maria V. Suurna, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in surgery for sleep apnea. “It’s effective. It has the lowest complication rate of all the surgeries.
“But it’s not for everyone. It’s approved only for adults 18 and older who are not overweight and who have moderate to severe apnea.” Some people may be ineligible because of the structure of their anatomy.
“Surgery is tricky,” Dr. Suurna said. “But there’s no ideal treatment for apnea. Each has pros and cons, benefits and risks.”