- Sleep apnea is the more severe form of a sleep breathing disorder. It occurs when an airway (the tube we breathe through) is closed off during deeper stages of sleep by the tongue falling back, and sealing off the tube, stopping the inhale cycle of breathing. At this stage, there is no breathing and the body struggles to get air, blood oxygen levels drop, blood pressure spikes, and heart rate increases as the brain screams for oxygen. It wakes up the sleeping body sometimes with a startling gasp and racing heart rate. The body transitions from a deep to a light sleep, the tongue moves forward, breathing returns, snoring begins again. The obstruction occurs again and the cycle continues up to 40 or more times and hour all night long.
The stress on the sleep apnea patient's heart and brain are devastating. The risk for heart attack or stroke for a sleep apnea sufferer is much greater than one who smokes. If one smokes and has sleep apnea, the risks skyrocket.
Your family is the initial informant.
The alarming fact is sleep apnea patients have no idea they have it. The latest conservative estimate is that millions of Americans, men, women and children, have this dangerous condition.
Some of the factors increasing the risk for sleep apnea are:
• Small retruded jaw line
• Large fleshy neck
• A feeling your mouth is too small for your tongue,
• Gag easily
• Frequent night time indigestion
• Waking up startled, heart racing and/or out of breath
• Falling asleep in the middle of the day or in public places
What can one do if he thinks he has a sleep breathing disorder?
First of all, your family is the initial informant. If they complain of your snoring, snorting and gasping during your sleep even if you claim no memory of snoring at all, talk to your doctor. Get tested for this.
How do we diagnose sleep apnea?
The only sure way is to have an overnight sleep study done. In sleep medicine, this is called a polysomnogram. If you test positive, the sleep MD will recommend a C-PAP or V-PAP machine which is a breathing machine. This machine blows air past the obstruction in your airway all night long. If you are not too severe, the sleep MD may recommend a dental sleep specialist to fabricate an adjustable oral appliance which will treat your sleep apnea.
Treating sleep apnea has desirable side effects:
Mild weight loss, increased mental acuity, restful and satisfying sleep and most important an increased life span.