Understanding Sleep Apnea

Originally published in South County Magazine

Recently in the media there has been a lot of buzz about Sleep Apnea. I would like to clear up some of the mystery surrounding this important medical issue and hopefully leave you with a better understanding as to cause, steps to treatment, and better health. 

So, let’s review the symptoms of Sleep Apnea.

  1. Waking up with a very dry or sore throat
  2. Loud snoring
  3. Waking with chocking sensation
  4. Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day 
  5. Sleepiness while driving
  6. Morning headaches
  7. A restless sleep pattern 
  8. Forgetfulness, mood changes, and decreased interest in sex 

Next, what are the medical effects caused by Sleep Apnea? 

  1. Hypertension
  2. Heart Disease
  3. Stroke
  4. Depression
  5. Diabetes
  6. Alzheimer’s Disease
  7. Again, forgetfulness, mood changes, and decreased interest in sex 
  8. Premature Death 

If you are regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor! Let him know how you’re doing and ask about Sleep Apnea. Your physician will most likely suggest a Sleep Study. Here they collect all the data needed for diagnosis and answer some very important questions. The study will determine if you have Sleep Apnea, and if so, how severe (number of events per hour which are closing off your airway). The scale goes, 0-5 events per hour is normal, 5-15 is considered mild, 15- 30 moderate, and 30 and above severe. If you are having over 5 events per hour, treatment is recommended.

Another key item used for diagnosis are the Stages of Sleep. Ideally it is good to have at least 20% REM Sleep. You may have heard of this, it stands for Rapid Eye Movement. This is the stage of Sleep were dreaming takes place, the mind’s organization of memories, and retention of learning. You also need to have about 20% N-3 Sleep, or what is called “Restorative Sleep.” This is when you get some real rest, at the same time hormones are released while your body is repairing itself. I very often see studies where nearly all Sleep is N-1 and N-2 Sleep, which I call “Junk Sleep.” As with “Junk Food” – no real benefits come from it. 

If it is found you have Sleep Apnea, your doctor will recommend CPAP therapy. CPAP stands for “Continuous Positive Air Pressure.” It is a mask which fits over the mouth and nose, or nose only. It delivers air at a certain pressure to prevent the collapse of the airway. However, over 50 percent of those patients who know they should wear the mask either can’t wear it or simply won’t. 

So what can you do to get a better night’s sleep? Find a dentist that has a good background in treating Sleep Apnea patients with “Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT).” OAT is the second most effective treatment for SA and unlike the CPAP mask, compliance is over 95 percent. 

The following are some pointers for finding the right dentist. Has he worked closely with the Sleep Centers and medical doctors in the community? Is he able to interpret your Sleep Study, analyze your situation, and make an appliance customized to your needs? 

How many years has he been making Sleep Appliances? Does he work with more than one type of Appliance? And, what is his success rate? Finally, is his staff knowledgeable when is comes to Medicare and Medical Insurance. 

Essentially, treating Sleep Apnea properly will make a huge impact in your life.