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Adult Sleep Apnea and What You Should Know

What Adults Should Know About Sleep Apnea

A popular area of discussion recently in the health field is adult sleep apnea. Many people unknowingly suffer from it because they are unaware of the signs and risk factors associated with this disorder. Research is showing long term effects that adult sleep apnea has on the body if left untreated, which is why it has become a topic of conversation. Many times the treatment involves both a physician and dentist, which can lead to patient confusion on how to get diagnoses and treatment.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is when the airway repetitively collapses or partially collapses during sleep and the need to awake oneself in order to resume ventilation occurs. The constant awaking throughout the night has been correlated to long term health effects, such as strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Sleep Is So Important For Your Health

To understand why interrupted sleep has such a detrimental effect, the four different stages of sleep need to be discussed.

Stage 1

This stage is our transition from awake to asleep.

Stage 2

This is a lighter sleep when we process motor skills learned that day. We are in these first two stages for about 60% of the night.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is also known as non-REM deep sleep. During this time, the brain processes the facts learned that day and short term memories.

Stage 4

This next and final stage is REM sleep. REM sleep is important because it is when we manage pain, anxiety, depression, and long term memories.

We go through these 4 sleep stages 3-4 times a night, and each time REM sleep gets longer.

What’s the Big Deal If My Sleep Is Getting Interrupted?

As a patient with OSA enters into the REM stage of sleep, the airway muscles become hypotonic (flaccid), which causes the airway to collapse. During this constriction, breathing becomes more difficult for the patient as less oxygen is getting into their bloodstream. This lack of oxygen causes the patient to awaken so they can catch their breath, taking them out of REM sleep. These respiratory events can occur in any sleep stage but are usually longer and deeper in oxygen desaturation when they occur during REM sleep. By not having enough REM sleep, the patient has pain and memory issues as well as an increase is anxiety and depression.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Symptoms of adult sleep apnea may include very loud regular snoring and daytime fatigue. Many times a significant other will tell you if you snore really loud or wake up at night gasping for air.

What Are the Risk Factors?

There are certain things that can increase your chances of adult sleep apnea, which are being male, being over 40 years old, being postmenopausal and being overweight (BMI more than 35 kg/m2). Sleep apnea tends to also present itself in patients with a family history of it.  If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, talk to your physician or family dentist.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have Sleep Apnea?

Some medical and dental offices have pulse oximetry. A pulse oximeter is worn on the wrist and monitors a patient’s oxygen saturation at home during the night when they are sleeping. It is a screening tool for apnea but polysomnography, a sleep study, needs to be done to be officially diagnosed with sleep apnea. Your physician, not dentist, will refer you to a sleep center to get a study done. A sleep study verifies that you have apnea by measuring how many apneic episodes you have and the severity of them.

I’ve Been Diagnosed With Sleep Apnea. Now What?

If diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a couple of ways to decrease its occurrence. The first and most important thing to do is to lose weight if you are over weight.

CPAP Machine

The main treatment course for patients with sleep apnea is called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. CPAP involves wearing a mask or nasal cannula at night that uses mild air pressure to keep the airway open. A sleep study is usually done again to make sure the CPAP is reducing a patient’s apneic episodes. CPAP is the best thing for sleep apnea but some patients cannot tolerate the treatment.

Repositioning Splint

If the patient has mild or moderate sleep apnea, Affiliated Dentists can make a repositioning splint that covers the upper and lower teeth and positions the jaw forward while asleep. This is when the dentist becomes involved because they fabricate the splint. A sleep study will also need to be done first, and again after the splint has been made to make sure the it is working properly.

Communication Between Doctor and Patient Is Key When It Comes to Sleep Apnea

The important thing for patients that might have sleep apnea is to talk to their physician and get a diagnosis. From there, a patient will need to involve both their dentist and physician to address sleep apnea and its side effects.

Some Celebrities Who Have/Had Sleep Apnea:

Basketball Legend Shaquille O’Neal
Talk Show Host and TV Personality Rosie O’Donnell
Star Trek Captain and TV Personality William Shatner
Grateful Dead Front Man Jerry Garcia
Greenbay Parkers Legend Reggie White. (Sara White, his wife, founded the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation)

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