What Is Sleep Apnea? 3 Things You Need to Know

Recognize sleep apnea symptoms.

Learn the facts about sleep apnea.

Have you noticed that you’re tired throughout the day despite seemingly getting enough sleep, or has your partner complained of your frequent snoring? You could be dealing with sleep apnea. 

This common sleep disorder often goes undiagnosed but poses some serious potential risks to your health. Here’s what you should know about this condition and what you can do about it.

1. What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common disorder defined by stops in breathing during sleep. These stops typically happen several times during the night, severely impacting the quality of your sleep. When the muscles in the back of your throat fail to keep the airway open, they temporarily restrict breathing, and you jolt awake suddenly.

In most cases, you’ll fall asleep immediately afterward, typically with no memory of the event. That’s part of why sleep apnea goes undiagnosed in so many people. Even if you do stay awake, you’ll likely attribute waking to something else, such as having to go to the bathroom.

There are also several types of sleep apnea that cause similar symptoms. Central sleep apnea is a condition related to the brain and the signals it sends to the muscles that control breathing. This leads to slow and shallow breathing and is rarer than obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is where the muscles supporting tissue at the back of the throat relax, closing the airway. This is much more common and has a wide range of potential contributing factors, including obesity and smoking.

In complex sleep apnea, both obstructive and central sleep apnea are present. This can make effective diagnosis and treatment difficult. Observing the nature and number of breathing interruptions during sleep is necessary to determine which type of this condition you’re facing.

2. Key Symptoms and Risks

Understanding the symptoms of this condition can help you identify whether it’s time to reach out to your dentist for a diagnosis. You can also go through our sleep apnea assessment to find out whether you may be dealing with this condition.

Loud snoring is one of the most common sleep apnea symptoms. As the airway closes partially, it causes tissue throughout the throat and nasal passage to vibrate with each breath. This creates the familiar sound of snoring.

If you share your bed with a partner, they may notice when you stop breathing due to sleep apnea. Your sudden jolt awake and gasping may wake your partner as well, which is another negative effect of this condition.

People with this condition are more prone to breathing through their mouths during sleep. As a result, you produce less saliva, which can cause dry mouth. You might also experience a sore throat upon waking.

Sleep apnea symptoms can include morning headaches. The poor quality sleep you’re getting will leave you tired throughout the day as well, likely making you irritable and impeding your ability to focus.

Being tired and unable to do your best at work or in other situations is serious enough, but there are many direct health impacts related to this condition as well. The low blood oxygen that results from lack of breathing causes your blood pressure to spike, potentially impacting your cardiovascular system and contributing to heart disease.

Sleep apnea is also linked to type 2 diabetes. Changes in blood oxygen levels and pressure affect glucose metabolism, which is a driving factor behind type 2 diabetes.

3. Diagnosis and Treatment Options

If you’ve noticed any sleep apnea symptoms, reaching out to your dentist to discuss this condition may be in order. There are several steps to diagnosis. An initial screening based on your symptoms and other observations can determine whether sleep apnea is likely.

To determine for sure, a sleep study must then be conducted. This procedure may require you to spend a night in a sleep center under observation or to use recording measurements with certain equipment during sleep at home.

There are several treatment options for this condition, depending on the severity. In some cases, simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference. This is particularly true where factors such as obesity or tobacco use contribute to the condition.

For severe cases, doctors may suggest that you use a continuous positive airway pressure device, more commonly known as a CPAP machine. With a CPAP, you wear a mask over the nose at night that’s connected to a machine providing air pressure to prevent the airway from closing. Even more serious cases may call for surgery.

In moderate cases, an oral appliance can provide effective relief. These custom appliances hold the jaw in a position that inhibits the muscles in your throat from relaxing and closing the airway.

Take action on sleep apnea today.

If you’re facing any symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s well worth finding out whether you have this condition and seeking out treatment. Not only will you enjoy improved quality of life, but you’ll also reduce your risk of many long-term health issues. Schedule a consultation with your trusted sleep dentist in Milford at CinciSmiles today to take action on sleep apnea.