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What Is Sleep Apnea?

man sleeping badly

The simple explanation of sleep apnea is that it is a disorder that causes people to stop and start breathing throughout the night. If you have sleep apnea, then your body will sense that you aren’t breathing normally and send an alert signal to your brain that wakes you up. Although the episodes are usually brief, the lack of oxygen can add up to serious health issues over time. Plus, all of those sporadic wakings can leave you feeling extremely groggy in the morning. The good news is that sleep apnea is very treatable! You’ll likely even have several options for treating sleep apnea, and your dentist in Arlington can get involved with helping you find the right one to help you get proper sleep.

Why Does Sleep Apnea Happen?

Feeling relaxed as you sleep is usually a good thing, but the muscles in your throat can sometimes relax too much and cause your airway to close. Once the air is unable to make its way through the airway, your blood oxygen levels can begin to drop. Your brain then senses that you aren’t breathing and wakes you up to force you to take a breath. The wakeup is usually so brief that you won’t remember it by the next morning. But, you might also experience a few wakings that jolt you out of bed.

People who wake up from a sleep apnea episode often experience the same signs you’d expect to see from holding your breath for too long. Waking up choking and sputtering for air is alarming, and you might find it takes you hours to fall back asleep. Even if you manage to sleep through the night, the repeated cycles of mini wake-ups can leave you feeling fatigued from the moment you wake up to start your day.

Although it is less common, some people experience disruptions in their brain’s patterns that prevent it from reminding the body to breathe. This means that your body just doesn’t make any effort to breathe during a period of time. When a miscommunication from the brain causes your sleep apnea, you might have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep until the morning. You’ll also wake up feeling a little winded or having shortness of breath.

How Do You Know If You Are at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

Knowing your risk factors for developing sleep apnea help you to know when to stay alert for this life-disrupting condition. Your risk of having sleep apnea goes up after you reach the age of 60, but even little kids can develop the disorder. In addition to older adults, the condition is more common among people who are overweight. Having excess weight can lead to an increase of fatty deposits in your throat that block the airway.

You could also have other anatomical issues, such as being born with an exceptionally small airway. Or, you could have large tonsils that block the airway when they get enlarged. This is a particularly common reason for sleep apnea in children. Being born a male also puts you at greater risk of sleep apnea, since men have the condition two to three times more often than women.

What Are Common Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

You may be wondering how you’d know if you have sleep apnea, since it happens while you sleep. Even if you don’t fully wake up during an episode, your body may warn you about the condition by showing these signs.

  • Having trouble waking up to your alarm
  • Excessive or loud snoring
  • Mood swings or being easily frustrated
  • Finding it hard to think clearly
  • Struggling with insomnia
  • Night sweats
  • Being told by a sleeping partner that you stop breathing
  • Headaches upon waking
  • Gasping for air in the middle of the night

What Are the Different Types of Sleep Apnea?

Most people have obstructive sleep apnea, and this happens when your soft tissues in your mouth and throat obstruct the airway. Central sleep apnea tends to occur less often. With this type, your brain doesn’t remind your breathing muscles to stay active as you slumber. People who have this type usually have other related health conditions that include heart disease or nervous system disorders.

What Sleep Apnea Treatments Are Available?

One of the first things you can do to reduce your episodes of sleep apnea is try to sleep on your side. Sleeping on your back makes it easier for your tongue and other soft tissues to fall backwards into your throat.

After a sleep apnea diagnosis, your doctor might prescribe a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine that you might have heard people refer to as a CPAP machine. For this treatment, you’ll wear a mask on your face that is attached to a hose that pushes air into your airway. The pressurized air helps to force your airway to stay open so that you can breathe normally.

CPAP machines have come a long way over the past several years, but some people still find the mask cumbersome. You may also find it hard to travel with the CPAP machine, but it is worth using one if it helps you to stop the sleep apnea episodes from occurring.

In severe cases, you may need surgery to help you correct issues that block your area, such as enlarged tonsils.

What Will a Dentist in Arlington Do to Help With Sleep Apnea?

Oral appliances are another type of treatment that your dentist in Arlington can help you try. A dental appliance for sleep apnea fits over your teeth in a way that is a lot like an orthodontic retainer. The appliance helps to move your jaw into a forward position and prevents your tongue from falling back towards your throat.

Some people use oral appliances as a more convenient standalone treatment for sleep apnea. Others may combine an appliance with a CPAP machine to achieve even better effects for reduction their apnea episodes.

When you’re ready to address sleep apnea, just give our dentist in Arlington a call. They’ll help determine which type of appliance best fits your needs. Then, we’ll help to make any necessary adjustments to give you a comfortable custom fit that helps you breathe easier as you catch up on your sleep.

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900 N Taylor Street, Suite 150, Arlington, VA 22203

(703) 291-3111