Important Information About Snoring and Sleep Apnea

About Snoring & Sleep Apnea

Snoring is a fairly common problem shared by approximately two-thirds of the adult population.  Occasional snoring usually creates a challenge mostly for the sleep partner, but chronic snoring that consistently disturbs sleep cycles can affect the health of both the snorer and their partner beyond simple sleepiness. 

What impact can lack of sleep have on a patient or their family?

Sleep happens in stages that follow each other in succession. Deep Sleep allows the body to restore physical energy and bolsters the immune functions. While REM sleep or Dream Sleep occurs about an hour and a half into your sleep cycle and is the time we spend processing emotions, relieving stress and retaining memories. When snoring or apneas consistently interrupt the sleep cycles, restorative functions are not as efficient and emotional and physical health can be impacted.

If you or your sleep partner snores, one or both of you may wake throughout the night. With sleep apnea, the body wakes itself consistently throughout the night to restart breathing. As a result of either condition, interrupted sleep prevents the body from the rest it needs to heal itself.

How Serious is Sleep Apnea?

It is a potentially life threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.  The risks of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea include heart attacks, stokes, impotence, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, and heart disease.  In addition, obstructive sleep apnea causes daytime sloppiness that can result in accidents, lost productivity, and interpersonal relationship problems.  The severity of the symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe. 

Causes and Symptoms of Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Diagnosing Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Chronic snoring and sleep apnea are conditions that should not be ignored. Sleep deprivation from insufficient or poor quality sleep can have serious effects on the physical and emotional health of both the sufferer and their sleep partner. See your physician or a sleep specialist for evaluation before beginning treatment. A sleep study may be required to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea.

Can Snoring or Sleep Apnea be Prevented?

If you are aware you snore or you are experiencing daytime drowsiness or other symptoms, you may find some relief by:
  • Insuring you are allowing sufficient time for sleep in your schedule
  • Normalizing your weight
  • See your physician to be sure you are not suffering from allergies, enlarged adenoids or other respiratory conditions.
  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid alcohol within a few hours of sleeping
  • Avoid medications that are intended to relax close to bedtime. Consult your physician before you adjust prescribed medications.
  • Sleep on your side
Even if you seek further treatment for Sleep Apnea or Snoring, these practices can help insure better, more refreshing sleep.

Treatment Options

If the simple practices described above do not improve your sleep, your medical professionals may recommend further steps to relieve your snoring or sleep apnea.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure The most widely recommended treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, the CPAP is a device that pushes pressurized air through a tube and mask-like device that is strapped in place.  The pressure keeps the airway open and makes it easier for the wearer to breath.

Positional Devices
For mild to moderate sleep apnea, changing position from sleeping on your back to on your side, may be enough to prevent gravity from acting on the soft tissue at the back of the throat. To prevent the sleeper from rolling over on their back, positional devices may be a simple, non-invasive solution that works well alone or with other treatments.

Dental Appliances
Similar in appearance to an athletic mouth guard, dental devices fit over upper and lower teeth and work by drawing the lower jaw or tongue forward during sleep to open the airway. These devices are often an ideal solution for patients who cannot tolerate CPAP because they are less invasive. It is important that a dentist trained in dental sleep medicine custom fit oral appliances and continue to monitor their use for optimum results.

There are a variety of surgical options that may help the patient who suffers from sleep apnea. Removal of tonsils or excess tissue at the back of the throat may work in cases of mild to moderate apnea. Other options include implanting stiffening strips into the soft palate or reconstructive jaw surgery. It should be noted that any surgery carries the risk of complications and may not always provide the desired results. If other options have been exhausted without satisfactory results, you may choose to discuss surgery with your sleep specialist.

Click here to learn more about treatment options available at our clinic.

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Facts About Snoring and
Sleep Apnea
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What is sleep apnea?

People may snore occasionally when their nose is blocked due to a cold, allergy or the like. When a person snores every night it is caused by their tongue or soft palate (the tissue at the top back of their mouth), has relaxed into the airway, narrowing it. The resulting noise comes from forcing air through the narrowed passage and the accompanying vibration of the tissue.

Sleep apnea occurs when the tongue and soft palate relaxed so far into the airway that it becomes blocked and stops the flow of air.  Your body reacts by waking you to restart breathing.  This cycle of interrupting sleep to regain breathing can be measured and ranges from moderate apnea, waking a few times a night, to severe apnea, when patients can wake over 60 times an hour.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
The most common kind of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea means “cessation of breath”.  It is characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction that occur during sleep, usually associated with a reduction in blood oxygen saturation.  In other words the airway becomes obstructed at several possible sites.  The upper airway can be obstructed by excess tissue in the airway, large tonsils, a large tongue, and usually includes the airway muscles relaxing and collapsing while asleep.  Another site of obstruction can be the nasal passages.  The position of the jaw structures can also play a role in obstructive sleep apnea.

In normal breathing, air flows, unblocked, through the mouth and nose.
When the soft palate relaxes into the airway, the passage narrows, causes tissue to vibrate and snoring occurs.
In sleep apnea, breathing is stopped because the airway is blocked by the tongue and soft palate relaxing into the airway. Your body reacts by continually waking you to restart breathing. The resulting chronic lack of sleep can have serious consequences on overall health.
Interesting Sleep Facts . . .
36 percent of American drive drowsy or fall asleep while driving
29 percent of Americans fall asleep or become very sleepy at work
20 percent have lost interest in sex because they are too sleepy
14 percent report having to miss family events, work functions, and leisure activities in the past month due to sleepiness
Source: National Sleep Foundation
Snoring occurs when the tissue at the back of the throat relaxes into the airway, creating a narrower space for breath to pass through. The airflow speeds up and the greater force causes vibration of the tissue and the accompanying noise. Sleep apnea occurs when the airway is temporarily blocked by the relaxed tissue, preventing airflow and causing the sleeper to wake to resume breathing.

Some of the reasons the tongue and tissue may relax into the airway are:
  • Aging,
  • Poor muscle tone,
  • Excess weight,
  • The effects of smoking,
  • Alcohol,
  • Medications that relax muscles
  • Sleeping position
  • Physical structure of the throat

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Aside from a sleep partner’s complaints, the other signs of snoring and sleep apnea
  • Loud snoring that may even wake the sleeper
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • A dry mouth upon awaking
  • Chest retraction during sleep in young children
  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight/Rapid weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Change in personality
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive perspiring during sleep
  • Heart burn
  • Reduced libido
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent nocturnal urination
  • Restless sleep
  • Nocturnal snorting, gasping, and chocking
  • Confusion upon awaking
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Impaired decision making or coordination from lack of sleep
  • Moodiness