Not Sleeping Well?  Maybe It’s Sleep-Disordered Breathing

Did you know that snoring can be a sign of a serious health problem called obstructive sleep apnea?  Snoring is the sound of turbulence as air moves through the back of the mouth, nose and throat.  The human airway is composed of collapsible walls of soft tissue.  Because the muscle tone of the body ordinarily relaxes during sleep, this collapsed tissue can obstruct breathing during sleep.  When breathing stops for a period of time, it is called an apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea falls into one of three classifications of severity: mild, moderate or severe.  The classification depends on the duration of apnea (it can last for a few seconds up to over a minute) and the frequency of these breathing events per hour of sleep.  Common symptoms include loud snoring, gasping or choking sounds, restless sleep, and sleepiness during the daytime.

Am I At Risk?

People with low muscle tone and soft tissue around the airway and people with a structurally narrow airway are at high risk for OSA.  Elderly people are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than younger people are, and men are more likely than women are.  Risk for obstructive sleep apnea rises with increasing body weight, smoking and age.  In addition, patients who are diabetic or borderline diabetic are up to three times more likely to have sleep apnea.

Why Should I Care?

Sleep apnea is important to identify because of its related health problems.  Sleep-disordered breathing is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, diabetes, and sleep deprived driving accidents.   When high blood pressure is caused by sleep apnea, it is distinctive in that the readings do not drop significantly when the individual is sleeping.  This is different from normal hypertension, or high blood pressure, which noticeably lowers when the person is sleeping.

Research studies estimate that in the U.S. the average untreated sleep apnea patient’s annual health care costs twice as much more than an individual without sleep apnea.  Patients with sleep apnea are also fifteen times more likely to be involved in a car accident.

How Do I Know If I Have It?

  • Have you been told that you snore?
  • Do you wake up choking or gasping?
  • Have you been told that you stop breathing in your sleep?
  • Do you have problems keeping your legs still at night or need to move them to feel comfortable?
  • Are you very likely to doze off when sitting and reading or watching TV?
  • Are you tired during the day even after 7 or more hours of sleep?

What Can I Do About It?

The first step is to find out if you have a form of sleep-disordered breathing.  This requires some testing either in a sleep lab with a polysomnogram (PSG) or in the comfort of your own bed with a take-home apnea risk evaluation system.

The results from these tests give a diagnosis of mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea.  For moderate to severe sleep apnea, the most common treatment is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which ‘splints’ the patient’s airway open during sleep by means of a flow of pressurized air into the throat.

In addition to CPAP, dentists specializing in sleep disorders can prescribe Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). The oral appliance is a custom-made mouthpiece that shifts the lower jaw forward, opening up the airway. OAT is usually successful in patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.  OAT is a relatively new treatment option for sleep apnea in the United States, but it is much more common in Canada and Europe.  Dr. Chowning has been extensively trained in the treatment of sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy.

Do You Have a Sleep Problem?

Does your partner complain about your snoring?  Are you tired even after a full night’s sleep?  Maybe you have already been diagnosed with a sleep-disordered breathing problem.  Call us today at 940-382-1750 to set up a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  Dr. Chowning has successfully been treating snoring and sleep apnea with oral appliances for years, and he will be happy to help you with your sleep problem.