What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is one of the conditions of Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB), a disorder that can lead to serious health risks by causing your breathing to stop and start throughout the course of the night. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is thought to affect about 18 million Americans. It is the most common form of SDB conditions. OSA is caused when the muscles in the throat relax and restrict the airflow, causing sleep to be interrupted. During sleep, the nerve signals that keep the muscles activated to keep the airway open when awake are turned off.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is when the airway becomes restricted. The first symptom that people usually notice is snoring. While snoring may seem like an everyday occurrence that isn’t cause for alarm, those who snore loud enough to awaken others should think again. Snoring is the sound of air struggling to get through a partially obstructed airway. You may also find yourself with sleep cycle interruptions due to gasping or dreams of suffocation. When your brain notices the lack of oxygen or excess Co2, it’ll awaken you. You may not notice these awakenings, but these constant interruptions prevent you from a normal 90 to 110 minute long sleep cycle.

A normal sleep cycle is essential to the functioning of your body. You should go through five stages of sleep. Stage three, deep sleep or Slow-wave sleep, is when the body rejuvenates and growth hormones are produced. Your body repairs cells and gets your muscles ready for the next day. The next stage of sleep is Rapid Eye Movement (REM). During REM, you dream; the body is normally paralyzed, and the brain rejuvenates. New evidence shows that the brain flushes out impurities during REM, such as amyloids linked to Alzheimer’s disease. So it is possible to sleep for 10 hours, but due to OSA, you keep being aroused before ever getting much deep sleep or REM sleep. Your body feels tired, and your brain function is impaired. You’ll notice this as mood swings, memory issues, trouble focusing, and having a tough time learning.

Central Sleep Apnea and Complex Sleep Apnea

Central Sleep Apnea is a condition that occurs when the brain fails to send the correct signals to the muscles that control and regulate breathing. There is no effort at all to breathe until the carbon dioxide levels in the blood get high enough to trigger breathing again. This condition causes breathing to stop and start.

Central sleep apnea, in combination with the airflow obstruction of OSA, creates a Complex Sleep Apnea syndrome only treatable by a CPAP machine.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

A consistent lack of sleep will result in daytime fatigue, mood swings, and an inability to focus on any tasks at hand. Without proper sleep, your body is not able to regulate hormones and will suffer from reduced organizational brain functions. Additional associated health risks and chronic illness include heart issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

Daytime signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Extreme daytime sleepiness: When you have sleep apnea, it’s common to fall asleep at work, behind the wheel, and watching TV.
  • Bodily fatigue: Since your body can’t repair cells, you’ll feel physically fatigued.
  • Headaches: Sleep apnea headaches arrive upon your awakening in the morning but don’t typically last very long once you’ve been awake and giving your brain the oxygen it needs.
  • Anxiety and depression: Anxiety and depression can be a byproduct of sleep apnea because of the large toll it takes on your social, work, and family life.
  • Mood swings: Your brain needs sleep to function properly. If you don’t get it due to sleep apnea, you’ll be moody and easily irritable.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Sleep apnea makes it difficult to concentrate on anything for too long because of the impact the lack of sleep has on your brain.
  • Memory problems: During sleep, your brain organizes and stores memories. Without sleep, those memories fly out the window.
  • Disinterest in activities you normally enjoy: It’s hard to be in the moment when you’re so tired. You’ll start to become disinterested in your favorite activities, and your relationships may start to suffer.
  • Dry mouth and throat: People with sleep apnea usually sleep with their mouths open. You’ll likely awaken with a dry mouth and throat.
  • Unexplained weight gain: Your body functions best when it’s well-rested, well-fed, and well-hydrated. Take away any one of these things, and your body will start to store fat.

Nighttime signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Loud snoring: Do you snore loud enough to wake up others? It’s a good indicator that your airway is obstructed.
  • Gasping for breath: You may not notice this one, but your sleeping partner might. When you gasp for breath, you’ll technically be awake, but only just.
  • Choking during sleep: Your body will react to the lack of oxygen with choking noises. You may not notice these either, but your sleeping partner may.
  • Mouth breathing: Your body will do anything to get enough oxygen, including trying to open your airway with mouth breathing.
  • Restlessness during sleep and insomnia: Your body actively tries to avoid poor situations. If your body senses you’re in danger when sleeping, it may try to keep you awake.
  • Awakening often to use the bathroom: During sleep, your body recycles excess liquid. But when you’re awake, you’ll need to use the bathroom. Because you are constantly awakening due to sleep apnea, your body will become confused, and you’ll need to use the bathroom often during the night.

Sleep apnea can also cause jaw clenching and tooth grinding, which can leave you at risk of painful problems with your teeth and jaw.

There has been some research examining links between sleep apnea and chronic sinus issues, but no definitive links connect them. However, some sleep apnea patients develop chronic sinusitis.

Get Sleep Apnea Treatment in Kansas City

Sleep dentist Dr. Raman Prabu can help. Call (816) 436-4422 or make an appointment online.