Sleep disorders are a large and under-recognised problem in Australia. For approximately 775,000 adults in Australia, 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. Sleep apnea is linked to major health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart failure, coronary artery disease and depression. Sleep apnea has also been the cause of motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries.
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.
So what is sleep apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, your brain and body becomes oxygen deprived and you may wake up. This may happen a few times a night, or in more severe cases, several hundred times a night.
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 specialist:
• Snoring — Snoring loudly and frequently is the most telling sign of sleep apnea. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or making choking or gasping noises as you try to breathe.
• Excessive daytime sleepiness— Repeated sleep disruptions caused by sleep apnea lead to a lack of energy and increased daytime sleepiness. Reports of falling asleep while driving were most common among adults who showed telltale signs of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.Sleep apnea has been the cause of motor vehicle accidents (4.3%) and workplace injuries (0.6%) in Australia.
• Trouble concentrating— 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.
• Irritability and depression — Sleep apnea can negatively influence your mood and lead to symptoms of depression. It’s been shown that treating sleep apnea can significantly reduce depression.
Other symptoms to look out for include:
- Morning headaches
- Waking up with dry mouth or a sore throat
- Frequent need to urinate during the night
What is the treatment for OSA?
Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder that needs to be treated. A Sleep Specialist can help you select a treatment plan that is right for you. Depending on the treatment, he or she may work in collaboration with other members of the sleep team, including dentists, dieticians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, and technologists. Your plan may include any combination of these treatments:
There are a variety of lifestyle changes that you can make to help you reduce your snoring and improve your Sleep Apnea symptoms.
- Weight loss can help improve or eliminate your Sleep Apnea symptoms if you are overweight. Overweight people often have thick necks with extra tissue in the throat that may block the airway.
- The time you wake up is important
- Make sure to have regular bed times and rising times. It is more important to wake up at the same time every morning than it is to go to bed at the same time every night.
- What you eat is important
- Avoid caffeine (including caffeinated teas) at least 4 hours before bed
- Avoid eating at least 1 hour before bed
- What you do makes a difference
- Avoid heavy exercise before bed
- Avoid technology (phone, computer) for at least thirty minutes before bed
Things to avoid if you have OSA
- Alcohol may worsen Sleep Apnea because it relaxes your muscles. Mild Sleep Apnea can become severe after a few drinks.
- Smoking – this damages the upper airway and makes it more collapsible
- Sleeping tablets can reduce the drive to breathe
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)
- CPAP is a machine that uses a steady stream of air to gently keep your airway open throughout the night so you are able to breathe. You sleep with a mask with tubing that is attached to a machine kept at the bedside. Masks and machines may vary depending on your treatment and comfort needs.
Oral Appliance Therapy
- An oral appliance or Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS) is a device that fits in your mouth over your teeth while you sleep. It may resemble a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. The device prevents the airway from collapsing by holding the tongue in position or by sliding your jaw forward so that you can breathe when you are asleep. Some patients prefer sleeping with an oral appliance to a CPAP machine. A dentist trained in dental sleep medicine can fit you with an oral appliance after you are diagnosed with Sleep Apnea.