More than just a nuisance during the day, poor sleep can be severely detrimental to your health. Sleeping well helps you look, feel and perform your best, and when you don't get enough quality sleep, you are putting yourself at risk. For approximately 25 million adults in the U.S., poor sleep is caused by sleep apnea, a disease in which you stop breathing up to hundreds of times a night for anywhere from 10 seconds to more than a minute -- and it can lead to serious health problems.
Telling Signs of Sleep Apnea
Although you may think you sleep through the night, you could still be suffering from poor sleep caused by sleep apnea. The symptoms may not be obvious. Here are some things to look for to help you determine if it's time to see a sleep physician:
• Loud, frequent snoring -- Loud and frequent snoring is the most telling sign of sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when soft tissue in your upper airway vibrates as you breathe, signaling that your airway is partially blocked. When you have sleep apnea, episodes of snoring are followed by noticeably long pauses during which you appear to hold your breath. These breathing pauses end with a gasping or choking sound when your breathing resumes.
• Lack of energy -- Repeated sleep disruptions caused by sleep apnea lead to a lack of energy and increased daytime sleepiness. In one study, reports of falling asleep while driving were most common among adults who showed telltale signs of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
• Heartburn -- Frequent heartburn can also be a sign of sleep apnea, and people with sleep apnea tend to see an increase in both daytime and nighttime heartburn and indigestion. In fact, a study from Sleep and Breathing found that sleep apnea treatment may also help to reduce heartburn.
• Forgetfulness -- Even one night of poor sleep can result in disruption and fragmentation of your thoughts. People suffering from sleep apnea regularly complain of being absent minded, and it's been shown that treating sleep apnea can improve memory.
• Overly sensitive or depressed -- Sleep apnea can negatively influence your mood and lead to symptoms of depression. In one study, patients with sleep apnea who were also suffering from depression saw their mood improve after receiving treatment for sleep apnea.
Taking the First Step to Treatment
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, the first step is to set-up an appointment with a sleep specialist for diagnosis. Your doctor will schedule you for a sleep study or a home sleep apnea test. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor will present you with treatment options, including continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) and oral appliance therapy. CPAP involves wearing a face mask connected to a machine that runs throughout the night. However, some find the mask hard to adjust to or uncomfortable to wear throughout the night.
If you are in need of a different treatment option, ask your doctor about an oral appliance. An oral appliance is a mouth guard-like device that is custom-made by a dentist and is quiet, portable and easy to care for. The device supports your jaw in a forward position, helping to maintain an open airway. The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), a non-profit group of dentists knowledgeable in dental sleep medicine, recommends oral appliance therapy as an effective, alternative treatment to CPAP.
If you opt for oral appliance therapy, make sure you find a dentist in your area who is knowledgeable about dental sleep medicine and is skilled in custom-fitting an oral appliance. You can find an AADSM member dentist in your area at www.LocalSleepDentist.com.