What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is when your breathing stops during sleep. In order to resume breathing, your brain must awaken slightly. This can happen hundreds of times a night, but you may not be aware of it, or you may think you woke up for another reason, such as having to go to the bathroom. It prevents you from ever reaching the deeper, restorative levels of sleep necessary to your physical and mental health.

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. In obstructive sleep apnea, your airway collapses during sleep. Because you are lying down, gravity pulls it closed, and when your muscles relax in sleep, they cannot hold it open.

Central sleep apnea is when your brain stops telling your body to breathe. The exact reasons for this are mysterious, but when another part of your brain senses oxygen deprivation, it wakens and resumes breathing.

It is possible for people to have both types of sleep apnea. This condition is called Complex Sleep Apnea.

diagram showing sleep apnea

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea. More than 2/3 of sleep apnea sufferers snore. If you snore, ask a cosleeper if your snoring ever seems to stop in a choking noise. This could be a sleep apnea episode.

Also watch for these symptoms:

  • Feeling unrested no matter how much sleep you get
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Weight gain despite dieting

If you have any of these symptoms, please contact us for a physician-supervised sleep test.

Dangers of Sleep Problems

As we mentioned above, this sleeping disorder significantly increases an individual’s risk of death, what researchers describe as “all-cause mortality” because it can contribute to many health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Mood disorders
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • High blood pressure

Most of the increased mortality from sleep apnea is related to cardiovascular conditions, but mood disorders and even car accidents play a role as well. People with sleep apnea are twice as likely to experience serious car accidents because they doze off while driving.

Tired Man

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Fortunately,  treatment can be very effective. For minor obstructive sleep apnea, we may recommend lifestyle changes such as exercise and weight loss, reducing alcohol consumption or changing what and when you drink or changing your sleeping position.

For minor or moderate obstructive sleep apnea, we may recommend oral appliance therapy as the best option. It’s comfortable, convenient, and easy to use. An oral appliance is similar to a mouth guard you wear at night that holds your jaw in a better position for holding your airway open.

For severe obstructive or central sleep apnea, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is the only treatment available. CPAP is a pump that attaches to a mask. The pump uses forced air to keep your airway open or keep air flowing even if your body stops breathing. CPAP is very effective when properly used, but many people find it too uncomfortable and cumbersome to use, so compliance with treatment is low.

Sleep apnea treatment is normally covered by health insurance, but oral appliance therapy is generally not covered by either dental or medical insurance. We are not an in-network provider for either dental or medical insurance, but can help you submit an out-of-network claim to your insurance provider.

To learn more about treatment, please call (949) 551-5902 to book an appointment in our Irvine office today.