The average person spends on one-third of their life asleep – it’s why a healthy and restful sleep is paramount to our wellness and quality of life. Many factors can influence our ability to get good night’s rest, but one of the most common hindrances is snoring.
However, snoring may just be a sign of a more serious underlying sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. A form of sleep-disordered breathing, sleep apnea are episodes of decreased airflow – or even loss of airflow to the lungs – resulting in decreased vital oxygen to the body during sleep. Those who suffer from sleep apnea actually stop breathing dozens or hundreds of times a night. Common symptoms include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Generalized lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to other serious medical conditions such as hypertension, heart or lung disease, stroke, or even sudden death.
Since sleep apnea occurs while you’re asleep, it can oftentimes be dismissed as just snoring – if it’s even noticed at all. If you think you are suffering from sleep apnea and you visit your family physician, they may initially recommend a sleep study (polysomnogram). Once the diagnosis of sleep apnea is confirmed, treatment option can be discussed with a sleep physician.
The therapy mainstay for sleep apnea is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask while sleeping. A CPAP mask provides air pressure to the upper airway so it stays open, allowing air to flow properly to the lungs for oxygenation. However, studies have shown only about half of the people who are prescribed CPAP are able to use it.
For those who are not able to tolerate CPAP, alternative therapies are now available. These treatments include non-surgical option such as a simple oral appliance put on before bed, similar to a retainer following braces. If you or someone you know has signs of sleep apnea, consult with your family physician to find out your treatment option.