Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes the sufferer to stop breathing for short periods of time whilst asleep and wich can happen several times each night. Often undiagnosed, sleep apnea can have a significant negative impact on your day-to-day life, and affect your performance, productivity and mood in a wide range of ways. This ultimate guide to sleep apnea should help you figure out if you suffer from this sleeping disorder and how to tackle it.
Sleep apnea – also known as sleep apnoea – is a type of sleeping disorder that leads to cycles of shallow breathing or pauses in respiration whilst the sufferer is asleep. People with sleep apnea might not realise that they have the disorder for some time, unless a loved one notices their unusual sleeping patterns, which often include bouts of loud snoring and other unusual breath sounds.
Sleep apnea can have an acute effect on the everyday life of sufferers, leading to problems such as feeling tired all the time, not feeling well rested after a night’s sleep, and not being as alert and active as normal during the day.
Whilst sleep apnea is more common in men than women and tends to affect older people as a general rule, the condition can affect either gender, and people of any age. If you suffer from sleep apnea or are concerned that you might be developing the disorder, this article will provide advice on sleep apnea symptoms, and information on some of the most effective sleep apnea treatments.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes the sufferer to stop breathing for short periods of time whilst asleep, or breathe much more shallow than normal at certain times during the sleep cycle. These irregular breathing episodes can vary in length from a few seconds to a few minutes at a time, and happen several times each night.
Often, when normal breathing is resumed, the sufferer will begin to snore loudly, or produce noisy breath sounds that may be loud enough to disturb a sleeping partner.
Sleep apnea itself is further divided into three different sub-categories or types:
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common variant, which occurs because the flow of air through the airways is obstructed – in contrast to central sleep apnea, during which the sufferer literally forgets to breathe while asleep. Combination or mixed sleep apnea consists of a mix of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Many people suffering from sleep apnea live with the disorder for some time – even years, in some cases – before they realise that something is amiss, and often, it is a sleeping partner who will first pick up on the fact that their partner’s sleep patterns are restless, erratic or disturbed.
However, if you regularly feel tired during the day, don’t feel rested when you wake up, or suffer from broken or interrupted sleep, these may be the first indications of a problem.
Some of the most common sleep apnea symptoms include:
Loud, harsh or rasping breath sounds and loud snoring almost always accompany sleep apnea, but snoring in and of itself does not necessarily indicate a diagnosis of sleep apnea. Often, people with sleep apnea will begin to snore as they come out of a period of shallow breathing or suspended breathing, as the airways reopen and the body inhales deeply to re-oxygenate the body.
However, snoring can have a variety of other root causes aside from sleep apnea, and snoring alone without shallow or suspended breath cycles whilst asleep is not considered to constitute sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea each have slightly different root causes, and combination sleep apnea consists of a mixture of both together.
Central sleep apnea occurs when the sleeper’s brain doesn’t send the right messages to the muscles of the airways and respiratory system that enable normal breathing when asleep. The cause for this may be unknown, or it may happen as a secondary complication of other health conditions such as muscle and nerve disorders, heart problems, or the aftereffects of a stroke.
Obstructive sleep apnea, on the other hand, occurs due to narrowing of the airways during sleep, which prevents the body from getting enough air. Some of the factors that can cause or contribute to the narrowing of the airways that leads to obstructive sleep apnea are:
Suffering from sleep apnea can have a significant negative impact on your day-to-day life, and affect your performance, productivity and mood in a wide range of ways. If you rarely, if ever, get a good night’s sleep, this can also lead to a number of direct risks such as an inability to concentrate properly when driving or operating machinery, and carrying out complex tasks.
Additionally, if your partner cannot sleep properly due to your unusual sleeping behaviour or if your sleep apnea causes them to themselves wake up during the night or suffer from interrupted sleep, this can have a similarly bad effect on them too, as well as placing your relationship under strain.
However, untreated or poorly managed sleep apnea can also increase your risk of a variety of other serious health conditions too, including:
If you suffer from sleep apnea or if yourself or your partner have noticed some of the symptoms of sleep apnea in your sleeping patterns and sleep behaviour, it is important to speak to your doctor in order to allow them to investigate the issue, and confirm or rule out sleep apnea as the cause.
Left unchecked and without attempts to mitigate the contributing factors for the condition, obstructive sleep apnea is likely to worsen over time, and central sleep apnea will not correct or reverse itself without intervention either.
Depending on whether you are diagnosed as suffering from central or obstructive sleep apnea and how pronounced the problem is, there are a range of different approaches to sleep apnea treatment that can allow you to get a restful, healthy night’s sleep.
However, whilst the internet-at-large is rife with websites and products purporting to offer instant sleep apnea cures, the real solution usually lies in lifestyle changes and/or the use of certain corrective medical devices, which is why seeking medical advice rather than attempting to self-diagnose and treat the condition is so important.
Next, we will look at some of the different lifestyle changes that can help to reverse and correct obstructive sleep apnea, and then some of the medical devices that may be indicated for all types of sleep apnea sufferers.
For persons who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, taking a range of positive steps to change and improve one’s lifestyle can often effectively reverse the problem, or reduce its impact to allow you to sleep properly and improve your quality of life.
Your doctor will be able to make recommendations and advise you in more detail on how to proceed, but some of the most beneficial lifestyle changes that can improve obstructive sleep apnea include:
For persons suffering from central sleep apnea, combination sleep apnea and more pronounced forms of obstructive sleep apnea, the use of certain types of medical devices may be indicated to counteract the problem.
In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, you may be able to stop using such devices if lifestyle changes prove to be effective in bringing the disorder under control, although this is not always the case, and generally sufferers of combination and central sleep apnea will need to use the appropriate device whilst asleep for the long term.
There are a range of different types of devices deigned to help with sleep apnea treatment, including a powered device called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, and various styles of sleep apnea mouthpieces that help to position the mouth and jaw in such a way as to keep the airway open during sleep.
A CPAP machine is a prescription device that runs from mains electricity, and incorporates a mask worn over your mouth and nose that regulates the pressure of the air that you inhale and ensures that your breathing stays regular while asleep. This continuous air pressure prevents your airway from narrowing or becoming occluded when you lie down, avoiding cycles of shallow or suspended breathing.
This is considered to be the most comprehensive and effective method of managing sleep apnea for sufferers who find that the condition has a serious impact on their sleep patterns and general wellbeing.
If your doctor (or a specialist that your doctor refers you to) determines that a CPAP machine is the most appropriate method of treatment for your sleep apnea, the machine will be provided on the NHS, along with support and instruction on how to properly use and care for the device.
Dental devices such as sleep apnea mouthpieces may be appropriate for treating less acute presentations of the disorder, or for people who find that they cannot get comfortable with the CPAP machine, which may be restrictive for restless sleepers or people who find the sensation of the mask uncomfortable.
Sleep apnea mouth guards or oral devices – sometimes referred to as mandibular repositioning devices – are designed to keep the lower jaw positioned slightly further forwards than it would otherwise be at rest, which tightens up the muscles around the airway and prevents the signature collapse or occlusion that causes sleep apnea and interrupted sleep.
These sleep apnea devices (MAD - Mandibular Advancement Devices) are individually made and moulded to fit the anatomy of the wearer’s mouth and jaw, to ensure that they fulfil their purpose and are comfortable to wear. It is important to note that off-the-shelf mouth guards for general applications or to prevent or reduce snoring are not the same as sleep apnea mouthpieces, and that mouthpieces of any type may not be appropriate for every sufferer in every situation.
In order to get a sleep apnea mouth guard made for you, you will need to contact a dental surgery that has experience in sleep apnea treatment devices, and that can take the appropriate impressions of your mouth to have a bespoke device made for you, as well as ensuring that such a device will not have a negative impact upon your teeth and gums.
Because sleep apnea mouth guards (MAD - mandibular advancement devices) are not suitable for everyone and are not indicated in the treatment of acute or severe sleep apnea, such devices are not usually available on the NHS, although there are some exceptions.
Products like Somnowell, Sleepwell, SomnoGuard, ONIRIS are provided by certified practitioners and you can search for a Dentist who can consult and assess your needs by searching on Smileo.
If you are suffering from sleep apnea or are concerned that you are displaying symptoms that indicate that you may potentially possess the disorder, it is important to discuss your concerns with your GP or Dentist and to get to the bottom of the problem, and establish the best way to proceed.
This may mean making some lifestyle changes or identifying and resolving an underlying health condition, or using a sleep apnea mouthpiece or CPAP mask to correct the disorder and allow you to get a good night’s sleep once again.