Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by a pause in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. Each pause can last from 10 seconds to several minutes, with a decreased airflow to the lungs by 80% or more.
This can be dangerous because a reduction of airflow to the lungs lowers blood-oxygen levels. The brain detects the lack of oxygen, perceives you are in danger, and prompts a momentary arousal in the form of choking, snorting, snoring, and/or a violent myoclonic jerk. These arousals last just long enough to restore breathing. Unfortunately, all those arousals interrupt deep and restful sleep.
Obstructive Sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition where an individual actually stops breathing repeatedly. People with mild OSA stop breathing for 10 seconds or more at least 5 times per hour. A person with severe OSA may wake 30 or more times per hour. Its no wonder they’re exhausted when they wake up and are tired throughout the day!
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
During sleep muscles relax, including those that control the tongue and throat. The soft tissue at the back of your throat can sag or collapse, partially narrowing or completely blocking the airway. Incoming air then makes the tissue at the rear of the mouth (the soft palate), the flap of skin hanging from the palate (uvula), and the throat vibrate – a sound we know as snoring.
Sleep Apnea Affects Quality of Life
It is estimated that OSA currently affects more than 25 million people in the United States. Approximately 2% of women and 4% of men over the age of 35 years are affected. One third of all patients that snore also have some degree of sleep apnea.
Loud snoring frequently strains the bed partner who isn’t the one snoring! A jackhammer produces 85 decibels of sound and a lawnmower 95 decibels. The loudest recorded snoring was 93 decibels! How can one sleep with that noise? When sleep partners are robbed of their vital sleep they can also show signs of sleep deprivation.
The snorer on the other hand, may experience hundreds of apnea episodes per night, unable to remember any of them and seem to be slumbering peacefully.
Family members and co-workers may also be affected by the condition.
Did you know that individuals with OSA have a 5 times greater incidence of heart attacks? Also, 57% of people with hypertension (high blood pressure) and 40% to 80% of stroke victims have OSA. When left untreated, sleep apnea can also increase the risk of diabetes, catching a cold, or even death. OSA can decrease one’s life expectancy by 5 to 7 years.
Medical and Dental Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
If you, or your bed partner thinks you, are experiencing any of the signs of sleep apnea, your first course of action is to schedule an appointment with your physician. Your health professional will diagnose your condition and recommend you to a sleep specialist.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for sleep apnea. However, it can be managed with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine utilizes a tight-fitting facemask, headgear and hoses that are attached to a machine which blows pressurized room air into your airway in order to keep it open. Many patients have a hard time sleeping with this device, as it can be uncomfortable and noisy.
Oral Appliance are now Recommended
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recently issued new medical guidelines for the treatment of sleep apnea. Oral appliances are now recommended as the first option for mild to moderate sleep apnea and the first option for patients who are unable to tolerate their CPAP machine.
Dr. Best thoroughly examines your teeth and mouth to confirm your oral health status, as well as ensuring that you are dentally appropriate for an FDA-approved sleep apnea oral appliance. A dental impression is taken and models are sent to a laboratory where your custom made appliance is made.
Discreet Oral Appliances Worn When You Sleep
These discrete oral appliances are worn when you sleep. The device fits over your upper and lower teeth. It advances your jaw in a forward position, thus helping to keep your airway open. You can open and close your mouth normally, talk and consume beverages. Your jaw is not locked in one position and you can close your lips so it is not obvious that you are wearing it. The appliance is comfortable, easy to wear and most people find that it only takes a few nights to get use to it. It can also be adjusted for your comfort.
Studies show 91% of patients that used an oral appliance reported improvement in sleep quality.
Tips for a Good Nights Sleep
In managing snoring and sleep apnea, the goal is to keep the airway open so that breathing does not stop during sleep. The following lifestyle changes may relieve symptoms in some people:
- Avoid alcohol, tranquilizers, sedatives, or antihistamines 4 hours before bedtime as they make the muscles relax more.
- Avoid sleeping on your back. Sleeping on your back encourages the lower jaw to slip back, which in turn causes the tongue to flop back in the airway.
- Lose weight. A loss of 10% of body weight will decrease sleep apnea by 50%.
- Stop smoking. It is an irritant and causes nasal congestion.
Also remember to:
- Keep a constant sleep routine.
- Limit daytime naps.
- Minimize light, noise, and extreme temperatures in the bedroom.
- Avoid strenuous exercise with in 2 to 3 hours before sleeping. Exercise increases body temperature.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime.