Sleep apnea is a condition that causes people to experience pauses in their breathing or have abnormally shallow breathing while they sleep. The pauses in breathing may happen as often as every other minute while the person is sleeping. Sleep apnea has side effects that can negatively impact one’s lifestyle because it likely results in poor sleep and therefore leads to daytime fatigue. An average of 15 million U.S. adults suffers from sleep apnea. Here are some ways that sleep apnea may hinder one’s lifestyle.
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
While there are two different types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. Obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed when one’s airway becomes blocked while they are asleep. This may be a partial or a full block. One reason this can happen is that the throat and tongue muscles relax too much while someone is asleep, which creates a barrier for the air flow that is trying to reach the lungs. Other factors that may come into play include having excessively large tonsils, and obesity, which can narrow the windpipe.
Experiencing a blocked airway may result in lowered blood oxygen levels, prompting the brain to wake up and re-open the airway. This brief awakening may be short enough that the person has no memory of it, but it often results in loud snoring when normal breathing is resumed.
Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common sign of this type of sleep apnea is snoring, as when the airways are opened, the person suffering from sleep apnea is likely gasping for air. However, not everyone who snores in their sleep suffers from sleep apnea. A different sign of obstructive sleep apnea is when people have pauses in their snoring, shortly followed by a period of choking or gasping for air. Sleep apnea often results in daytime sleepiness due to the disruptions in deep sleep. Other symptoms include:
- Waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat
- Waking up with a headache
- Difficulty concentrating while awake
- Mood changes, depression, irritability
- Decreased libido
- High blood pressure
- Nighttime sweating
How Obstructive Sleep Apnea May Hinder Your Lifestyle
Avoid sleeping on your back is one way to prevent your tongue and throat muscles from relaxing and falling into your airway, resulting in a blockage. For people who are suffering from mild sleep apnea, changing sleeping positions may be a simple way to relieve some of the symptoms.
You can also sleep in a slanted, upright position to increase the body’s ability to correctly keep air flowing. This keeps the throat from naturally narrowing when lying flat.
Diet and Exercise
If excess weight is an issue, weight loss is an important factor in decreasing the fatty tissue that is built up in the throat. This helps the air flow naturally during sleep. With a proper diet and regular exercise, the resulting weight loss will reduce apnea episodes. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise will result in a positive impact on sleep quality and a significant reduction in daytime fatigue.
Smoking and Alcohol
Quitting smoking and drinking alcohol can help to relieve some sleep apnea issues. Smoke irritates the lungs and causes inflammation of the sensitive tissues in the airways. Smoking increases swelling of the tissues, which therefore increases airway obstructions.
Alcohol can cause the throat muscles to collapse into the airways because it relaxes them – this may contribute to an obstruction. Do not drink alcohol for at least 3 hours prior to going to sleep. While alcohol may result in drowsiness, it can also interrupt deep and restorative sleep cycles.
Excessive daytime drowsiness due to sleep apnea may cause episodes of dozing off during the day at inappropriate times. This may happen at work, while watching TV, and even while driving.
When to Consult a Physician
People who suffer from sleep apnea are often unaware that it is occurring. For this reason, a spouse or someone else who lives and sleeps close to the patient is often the one to notice there is a problem and urge the person to see a doctor. One should see a doctor if they experience the symptoms of sleep apnea in order to have a sleep test done to confirm the diagnosis.
Having jaw surgery to correct sleep apnea can vary depending on the patient. The most successful orthognathic surgery for patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea is called maxillomandibular advancement surgery. This jaw surgery removes bone from both jaws and the chin and moving the jaws forward.
This movement opens and widens the airway, which is an important part of preventing the airway from collapsing. Jaw surgery of any type may be seen as a major surgery, however, there are no reported deaths following orthognathic surgery, and major complications are extremely rare.
While numbness may occur in the lips, cheeks, and chin of the patient, it is temporary and not incapacitating for the patient. The numbness is actually found to be advantageous to the patient, as it decreases the pain following the surgery.
The ideal candidate for this type of surgery has failed to benefit from more conservative treatments such as a CPAP machine or a splint. Some ideal candidates may also have a craniofacial deformity, have a BMI of over 30, is under the age of 50, and has moderate or severe sleep apnea. Orthognathic surgery is considered to be one of the safest and most effective upper airway surgeries to treat this disorder.
In order to receive more information on this type of surgery or treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, contact Dr. Jamali in New York. Dr. Jamali is a board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon who is also an active member of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, the American Dental Association, the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology, and the New York State Dental Association. Contact his office at 212-480-2777.