Some people think snoring is a funny thing that old men typically do while they are sound asleep. However, loud snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes breathing to stop repeatedly throughout the night. This may lead the sufferer feeling exhausted throughout the day, affect one’s mood and one’s relationship with other people in the house who are trying to sleep. There is a chance that is can also be dangerous to overall health.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea shortly interrupts breathing during sleep. The breaks in breathing usually last about 15 seconds and may happen hundreds of times throughout the night. This can jolt a person out of their sleep, messing up their sleeping patterns and quality of sleep.
Consequently, the sufferer spends less time in a deep sleep that is needed to restore the body and more time in a light sleeping pattern. This prevents the sufferer from being rested the next day, which in turn decreases energy, mental abilities, and productivity. Sleep apnea may also reduce the flow of oxygen to the vital organs, and cause an irregular heartbeat.
Because sleep apnea occurs only while one is asleep, many people do not know that they have this issue until someone tells them how much they snore. It is important to take this seriously rather than make light of it, because it can have serious impacts on both physical and emotional health in the long run.
How Sleep Apnea Prevents You from Breathing at Night
There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is much more common than central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the soft tissue in the back of the throat relaxes while you are sleeping, blocking the airway, and causing you to loudly snore. The obstruction makes your chest and diaphragm muscles work overtime to help open the obstructed airway so air can get into the lungs. When this happens, it typically results in a loud gasp, body jerk, or snort.
Being overweight or obese can contribute to this problem. Having a thick neck or small airways, or anything that restricts breathing at night can help add to sleep apnea issues. It can also worsen if your tonsils are enlarged or there is too much tissue in the back of the throat hanging down and blocking the windpipe. A larger tongue may also block the airway, as can a deviated septum.
Central sleep apnea is much less common and involves the central nervous system. This kind of sleep apnea occurs when the brain stops signaling the muscles to control breathing. This is not very common and people with this type of sleep apnea do not experience snoring.
A doctor will give a thorough medical exam and ask questions about your sleep. The doctor may also speak with people who live with you to talk about your snoring. Often, you have a sleep study done in a sleep lab while you wear monitors and the doctor can measure your air flow, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing patters, electrical activity of the brain, and blood oxygen levels. The sleep study will track the frequency of breathing impairment.
There are several treatment options for sleep apnea, although some are better than others. Weight loss is an important first step if the patient is overweight. Extra weight around the neck puts more pressure on the valve, therefore closing the airway. It is also important to avoid alcohol and sleeping pills. These relaxers not only make the airway more likely to collapse while you are sleeping, but they also lengthen the amount of time that breathing is stopped.
Many patients opt to get a CPAP machine. This machine has a mask with an air blower to facilitate constant breathing. The air blower forces a constant and continuous flow of air through the nose or mouth. The air pressure is strong enough to keep the upper airway tissues open while you are sleeping. However, this device is difficult for some patients to sleep comfortably while wearing.
The best route to go when treating sleep apnea is orthognathic surgery. The most successful type of orthognathic surgery for sleep apnea is maxillomandibular advancement surgery. This typically solves 90% of the obstructive issue. This surgery removes some of the bone in the lower and upper jaws and the chin, and then moves the jaws forward. This opens the airway all around, which is important for preventing a collapse during the night.
While this type of surgery may be seen as being a very major surgery, there have been no reported deaths following this surgery. Less than 1% of cases have major complications and they are temporary and curable. The most common issue people may experience after this surgery is some numbness around the mouth.
Sleep apnea prevents you from breathing at night by obstructing your airway and therefore preventing air from getting into your lungs. There are some solutions that offer benefits, but for a more permanent benefit, orthognathic surgery is the most effective route. This surgery will help to ensure your airways stay open and you are able to get the full, restorative sleep needed throughout the night.