The Science of Sleep Apnea: How to Treat It

If you have difficulty sleeping at night, you might have a condition known as sleep apnea. This condition makes it difficult for you to breathe while you sleep. You might even find yourself waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air. It is a somewhat common dental issue, with over 22 million people in the U.S. exhibiting symptoms. Unfortunately, about 80 percent of sleep apnea cases do not receive a diagnosis.

The breathing pauses that occur while you sleep with this condition are known as apneas. Apneas can be as frequent as 25 times every hour. The primary symptom of sleep apnea is the inability to get a good night's rest, which often leads to fatigue and sleepiness during the day. Sleep apnea cases can occur in two types: central and obstructive.

If you have obstructive apnea, your airways are fully or partially blocked while you sleep. The excessive relaxation of the muscles in your tongue and throat are responsible for this blockage. That restricts the flow of air into your lungs which eventually leaves you out of breath. Other factors that can lead to restricted airflow in your airways while your sleep includes being overweight (which narrows your windpipe), and having enlarged tonsils that block the opening of your windpipe.

The blockage in the airways will eventually lead to lower oxygen levels, which will trigger your brain to wake up so your airway reopens. Central apnea is the less common type of sleep apnea. With this condition, your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that make breathing possible. It can be a result of a number of other medical conditions like being overweight, heart failure, or Parkinson's disease.

It is also possible to have both types of sleep apnea at the same time. This is known as mixed apnea.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

Loud snoring is a common sign of sleep apnea. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. People with this condition also tend to find themselves feeling sleepy during the day. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

Other symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Morning headaches

  • Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning

  • Difficulty focusing during the day

  • Waking up frequently to urinate at night

  • Waking up suddenly gasping for air

Treating sleep apnea

If you have a mild case of sleep apnea, you only need to make some small lifestyle changes to get back to sleeping well again. Some of the things you can do include losing weight, sleeping on your side, or quitting smoking.

A mouth-guard-like device can also be used to keep your airway open while you sleep if you have a mild case. These mouthpieces are custom made for you by your dentist.

For more severe cases of sleep apnea, you might need a CPAP device. This machine comes with a mask that covers your nose and/or mouth and keeps your airways open using air pressure. For the most serious cases, surgery can be used to open your airways if other methods have failed.

If you think you have sleep apnea... Request a dental appointment here: or call Old Alabama Dental Care at (770) 200-4032 for an appointment in our Alpharetta dental office.

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