SNORING.... A Minor Annoyance or Possibly Life-Threatening?

Do you snore? Do you have high blood pressure? Do you struggle to keep a health issue under control? Are you under 55 and nap easily? Have you had anyone tell you that they heard you stop breathing for several seconds in the night and then take a gasping breath?   When I began looking into this, I was surprised to learn that 50% of snorers, over age 35, have some measure of OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). This is a serious sleep disorder that can have enormous implications to your daily health and safety. You may need to be concerned about OSA if you answer “yes” to 2 or more of the previous questions:. If so, consider this:  People with OSA are 23 times more likely to have a heart attack and 24% report falling asleep at the wheel at least once a week. That means 4% of drivers may be falling asleep while driving at least once a week! Sleep Apnea can play a serious role in diabetes, stroke, weight gain, hardening of the arteries and decrease work performance. Obviously, this is a MUCH bigger problem than once thought.

So just what causes OSA? 

Your breathing can become blocked hundreds of times every night when there is a narrowing of your airway from a loss of muscle tone in the throat. Essentially, your airway collapses easier, than it should. This prevents you from breathing periodically during the deepest parts of sleep.  The brain recognizes the oxygen deficit after 10 seconds and you are jolted (by signals from the brain) to wake up suddenly, just enough to take a gasping breath. The problem with this, of course, is that the snorer never gets into a normal restful sleep state. They are "woken up" dozens and dozens of times each hour, so the restorative benefits of sleep never occur. This also means that for hours at a time, you are not getting normal amounts of oxygen into your bloodstream. During the day, your body then struggles to function without enough saturated oxygen in your blood. Hence, most OSA sufferers complain of low energy.

Signs of problems related to OSA: Sleepiness (especially in the afternoon), Spouses and partners sleeping in separate rooms, Daytime Fragmented sleep that does not refresh, Poor memory, Irritability or personality changes, Decreasing sex drive, Morning headaches, acid reflux (heartburn). In our practice, we work with people on their “total wellness”.  We don’t just worry about their teeth. And in fact, we are often the first people to discuss this problem with a patient because we know them so well. They become like family around here. Whenever we speak to someone who is struggling to keep a chronic health problem under control, complaining of low energy, weight gain, or dry mouth, we start a dialogue about OSA.

Do all snorers have OSA? No, some snorers can be classified as “primary snorers”. Their snoring is only a social problem, and it works much like the purring of a cat. But there is no way to tell if you have “primary snoring” or OSA without a professional evaluation with an excellent sleep disorder professional.

Can Sleep Apnea be cured?

 The sleep state is a very, very complex system. It can be altered and upset by a great number of sources, (too complicated to discuss here.) Consequently, there are many different remedies. And what about TV remedies that say they will eliminate snoring? Unfortunately, most often they are a waste of money at best, and at worst, they may do more damage than good, causing trouble with your jaw joint and allowing your teeth to shift irreversibly. In our office, we make a device that we have had a lot of success with, but again, there is no “one size fits all” remedy. The best way to well-being is to have a proper exam and diagnosis from a sleep disorder specialist.

Bottom-line: It’s easy to joke about snoring problems within a family, or to put off testing for sleep apnea. But the people whose lives will be saved by professional care for OSA will never be saved by a simple mouth appliance from the television.  Dr. Chuck and I have seen it many times.  It is often a life changing step. You can learn more about this and other subjects mentioned here, (jaw joint problems, shifting teeth and other sleep disorders)  by using the search button on our office website. Good Sleeping!