An estimated 38 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which is a condition that causes you to stop breathing momentarily, and then jolt back into a normal breathing pattern with a snore, snort, or gasp. In order to be diagnosed with sleep apnea, your periods of nonbreathing must last for stretches of 10 seconds or longer and happen multiple times an hour. If you have sleep apnea, you could be at an increased risk for a whole array of health problems.
At the Washington, DC, dental practice of Dr. Margaret Culotta-Norton and Dr. Peter Grinc, sleep apnea can be diagnosed and a plan put in place to improve sleep patterns and reduce health risks.
Understanding sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, or OSAS, causes your airway to close off while you’re asleep. This is due to the soft tissues of the throat and the muscles that control the tongue relaxing, allowing the airway to be shut off.
After about 10 seconds, your brain realizes that you aren’t breathing properly. It sends out an alert to the rest of your body, provoking a startle response. You’ll jerk in your sleep, snoring suddenly or gasping and choking just a little. It is enough to open your airway so you can take a breath, but usually not enough to wake you up.
Many people don’t realize they are having sleep apnea episodes until a bed partner mentions their continual snorting noises at night. Even then, it may be written off as simple snoring. If you are also experiencing fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and drowsiness when driving, you should get checked for sleep apnea.
Health risks of sleep apnea
If not treated, sleep apnea can significantly increase your risk for certain diseases or make conditions you already have worse.
Heightened stress and anxiety
One of the first signs of sleep apnea issues is daytime sleepiness, which can add to stress, increase anxiety, and lead to irritability, memory issues, and impaired alertness.
Danger of vehicular accidents
Drowsiness when driving is a hallmark of sleep apnea. Falling asleep at the wheel can lead to serious injury or death and poses a significant risk. Don’t let a treatable sleep disorder cause you or your family to be put at risk!
Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
You can reduce your risk of a serious life-threatening event by receiving appropriate treatment for sleep apnea while also treating cardiovascular symptoms and making lifestyle changes to minimize your risk of heart attack or stroke. Treating sleep apnea can also help with arrhythmia, which can be worsened by the constant startle response at night.
Higher likelihood of diabetes and obesity
Sleep apnea elevates your risk of gestational or Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, including insulin resistance and some forms of obesity. If you can manage your sleep apnea, your metabolism is likely to improve.
By managing your sleep apnea, you might be able to help your bed partner also get a good night’s sleep, reducing the chances that they’ll give up on sharing a bed with you or become resentful about the noise at night.
Ready to discuss sleep apnea with a professional and find out how treatment can help your health? Contact our office at 202-833-1111 or book a consultation with one of our sleep disorder specialists today.