What is Sleep Apnea?

British novelist Anthony Burgess said "Laugh and the world laughs with you.  Snore and you sleep alone".  Snoring itself can cause unrestful sleep and bother your partner, but it doesn't pose the same health risks as sleep apnea.

 illustration of normal airway flow vs. obstructive sleep apnea

What the Heck is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep.  The word Apnea comes from a Greek word meaning "without breathing".  The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or making choking noises as you try to breathe. 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.

There's another kind of sleep apnea that is more dangerous.  Central sleep apnea is when the brain fails to send a signal to the muscles that control breathing.  Central sleep apnea is much less common, but it's very important to diagnose and treat.  An overnight sleep study will detect both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect My Health?

Sleep apnea can make you wake up in the morning feeling tired or unrefreshed even though you have had a full night of sleep. During the day, you may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or you may even unintentionally fall asleep. This is because your body is waking up numerous times throughout the night, even though you might not be conscious of it happening.  You'll also suffer from a lack of oxygen during the night which can lead to long term issues with weight, blood pressure and even diabetes.

How Can I Tell if I have Sleep Apnea?

You can take a simple screening test called the S.T.O.P. Questionnaire to help determine your risk level for sleep apnea.  Believe it or not, your dentist can also assist in determining your risk at your next visit.  By following a chart called the Mallampati score, dentists can determine possible obstruction of your airway by looking at the back of your throat.  The best way to determine if you suffer from sleep apnea is to schedule a consultation with a sleep specialist who can discuss your sleep issues with you and suggest the right testing.