Determine when your snoring needs to be addressed.

There are few things as refreshing as getting a good night of sleep. It leaves you feeling alert and energetic, ready to face each new day. If you or your partner snore regularly, however, getting a good night’s rest can seem nearly impossible. To further complicate the problem, many people don’t know if they’re snoring unless their partner tells them! Snoring isn’t just a hindrance to sleep, it’s closely linked with sleep apnea, which is a serious condition that can lead to more major medical issues if left untreated.

Here are the answers to some sleep apnea FAQs to help you build your knowledge about the condition.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. Generally, people with sleep apnea will stop breathing for 10 seconds or more before their brain kicks in to wake them up just enough to take a breath. Most sleep apnea patients stop breathing between five and 30 times an hour, but severe cases can hit as many as 100 times an hour.

What are the different types of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is split into three different types based on the condition’s basic cause, which can be surprisingly different. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when your airway becomes narrowed or blocked as the muscles in your throat relax too much. Your brain realizes the danger and wakes you up to reopen your airway, though many people don’t remember waking up at all. Central sleep apnea is significantly less common, as it involves a problem with your brain itself. In this type of sleep apnea, your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles in your body that control breathing, so they simply don’t expand or contract to enable you to breathe. This usually causes you to have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep. The third and rarest type of sleep apnea is called complex sleep apnea syndrome, which is a combination of the other types.

Who’s at risk for sleep apnea?

Anyone can develop sleep apnea, even if they have none of the more obvious risk factors. However, there are a number of elements that can increase your risk of developing the condition. Older people and men are at a greater risk for developing either type of sleep apnea, as are people who have congestive heart failure.

People with thicker necks, narrow airways, nasal congestion from chronic allergies or a malformation in the nasal passages, a family history of sleep apnea, or medical conditions like type 2 diabetes or hormonal disorders are at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, and using sedatives or tranquilizers also put you at a greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea has a few unique risk factors itself, including having had a stroke in the past, having a heart disorder, or using opioid pain medications.

Is snoring a telltale sign of sleep apnea?

Yes, snoring is a major symptom of sleep apnea, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. In fact, most people who snore don’t have the condition. On the other hand, most people who have sleep apnea do snore. If someone’s snoring is frequent and loud enough to wake their partner, it should definitely be looked into. People with sleep apnea will also sometimes wake up making a gasping or choking sound, so that’s a sure sign you should schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor. The condition also has several other symptoms you can also keep an eye out for, including:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Restless or unrefreshing sleep
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Forgetfulness or brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Worsening depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Waking up with headaches
  • Waking up with a sore or dry throat

How does sleep apnea impact daily life?

It’s never a good idea to drive when you’re tired or having a hard time concentrating, but if you have undiagnosed sleep apnea, you may feel that you have no choice; after all, you have to get to work, run errands, and perform other essential tasks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less risky. As a result, sleep apnea can increase your likelihood of getting into a car accident. It also increases your likelihood of suffering accidents at work for the same reason, particularly if your job involves heavy machinery or tools.

Symptoms like forgetfulness and lack of concentration can also negatively impact your performance at work or school, while irritability can harm your personal and professional relationships. For example, if your partner isn’t sleeping well either, you can both wind up exhausted and moody, which can quickly lead to fights.

How does sleep apnea impact overall health?

Unfortunately, untreated sleep apnea has been linked to a number of serious health conditions. It increases your likelihood of suffering from type 2 diabetes, liver problems, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. It can also cause serious complications, such as a heart attack, stroke, or an irregular heartbeat from repeatedly low oxygen levels in the blood.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a sleep study. Sleep studies can sometimes be done at home by wearing equipment that measures your heart rate, blood oxygen level, and breathing patterns. In many cases, however, these studies are done at a sleep clinic where your doctor can gather a lot more data. When your sleep study is done at a sleep center, your doctor is able to monitor your heart, lung, and brain activity, as well as your arm and leg movements, the level of oxygen in your blood, and your breathing patterns throughout the night.

How does a CPAP machine work?

CPAP machines are the most common method of treating moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. The machine delivers a constant stream of air to you through a mask that you wear over your nose. This increased air pressure keeps your airway open, allowing you to breathe and sleep easily all night—and stop snoring.

How does an oral appliance work?

Oral appliances work by taking the position of your jaw and how it affects your airway into consideration. Everyone’s ideal jaw position is different, so oral appliances are custom-made for each patient. Imaging tests are done to find a natural, relaxed position for your jaw that leaves your airway as open as possible. The appliance is then created to keep your jaw in this position throughout the night, keeping your airway open and allowing you to breathe easily—without snoring.

Since its other main goal is to help you get a full night’s sleep, it’s designed to be as comfortable as possible to ensure you can easily fall and stay asleep while you’re wearing it. Oral appliances can’t help with more severe cases of sleep apnea, so it’s wise to consult with your sleep doctor and Dr. Tomasik before making any final decisions. If it’s an option for you, however, the treatment can free you of the uncomfortable mask and wires of CPAP machines.

Get a good night’s rest by addressing your sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is more than simple snoring. It can have wide-ranging effects on your life, from your relationships and your job performance to your overall health. As a result, if you’re not sure whether or not your symptoms point to sleep apnea, it’s always better to find a specialist and get tested. After all, doing so could be the first vital step toward protecting your health and reclaiming a restful night’s sleep—for you and your partner!

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