According to the American Sleep Association, 92% of middle-aged men and 83% of middle-aged women have a serious condition called sleep apnea. Apneas are short pauses in breathing while someone is sleeping, which causes the brain to try to awaken the individual to take a deep breath. In actuality, those who suffer from sleep apnea don’t fully awake, but become just conscious enough to start breathing again, which disturbs their sound sleep.
The cause of these pauses varies, including a small percentage with a brain disorder that requires medication, known as Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). But most who have this problem usually have some kind of blockage that impairs breathing, such as a large tongue, tonsils, or mouth tissue that block the airway when the individual lies on his or her back. This is often due to being overweight (a Body Mass Index of over 35 greatly raises the risk of having OSA).
The most common symptom of sleep apnea is loud and frequent snoring, but unless a partner complains, the individual may not even realize this is happening. Those whose sound sleep is being disrupted by the apneas will also often wake up in the morning choking, with headaches (especially migraines), a dry mouth or sore throat, or the feeling there is cotton in their mouth (due to gulping for air when they are half-awakened during the night). Other signs may include frequent acid reflux, feeling so tired it is dangerous to drive, inability to focus at work or remember instructions, and falling asleep in the middle of meetings.
Clearly, driving to work when sleepy is like driving drunk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes 10,000 vehicle crashes and 1,500 deaths each year to sleep deprivation. But there are also other serious risks that increase due specifically to sleep apnea, including for all types of cardiovascular disease, clinical depression, and lower libido.
There are ways to decrease the risk of having sleep apnea, including losing weight, quitting smoking, and not sleeping on the back.
The good news is that your dentist can provide a simple remedy for those who believe they suffer from OSA. Dr. Cluff can create a customized, comfortable oral appliance, similar to a sports mouthguard, which can be worn while sleeping and which will keep the airway clear. Call us today to set an appointment for a full exam to check the state of your oral health and a discussion about any symptoms that concern you or a member of your family may be suffering from sleep apnea.