Sleep apnea and snoring are common. So common, in fact, that many patients are beginning to turn to sleep medicine to improve their sleep quality and overall health. But, did you know that a quick visit to your dentist may be the first step in your sleep medicine journey?
It’s true! Many dentists are incorporating sleep medicine into their practices. Dr. Timothy E. Mickiewicz, DDS, is just one dentist leading the charge on improved sleep health for enhanced oral and overall health. If you’re ready to seek help for a suspected sleep condition, then contact our dentist in Sacramento, CA, at (916) 469-9178.
In today’s blog post, Dr. Mickiewicz answers some of your questions about snoring and sleep apnea. Understanding how sleep conditions impact your daily life may be just what you need to get the transformative care you deserve.
What is sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the narrowing or blocking of the airways while slumbering. The airway becomes blocked or constricted while we sleep due to extremely relaxed muscles in our mouths and throats. This often causes a momentary cessation in breathing, which forces the brain to wake the body in an effort to establish better airflow.
Experts believe that nearly 10% of the total population is living with sleep apnea. Research also suggests that men are more prone to sleep apnea than women.
Why does sleep apnea make me snore?
Ultra-relaxed muscles move and shift according to gravitational force. This means that a relaxed tongue can easily slide toward the back of the throat while lying in a supine position (lying face up).
Once these muscles begin restricting airflow, it forces the air from the lungs through a smaller opening. However, it does not always change the rate at which air enters or leaves the lungs.
This means that the pressure of the air entering or leaving our lungs must burst through the windpipe, which causes turbulence within the nasopharyngeal area. Snoring is the aural representation of that turbulence.
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea and snoring?
There are several risk factors for sleep apnea and snoring, including:
- Excess body weight: Gaining even 5% of our body weight can place us at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. The fatty tissue in our bodies can accumulate in unsuspecting areas, like the neck. Extra weight around the neck can further restrict airways during slumber.
- Genetic predisposition: Some people are born with smaller airways than others. These people may experience more issues with obstructive sleep apnea.
- Age: Sleep apnea and snoring tend to get worse as we age. This may be due to the low muscle tone that naturally occurs as we age.
- Sex: Men are more prone to sleep apnea than women.
- Substance use: Whether it is alcohol or recreational drugs, many substances have a sedative or tranquilizing property. This can make sleep apnea and snoring worse than it usually is.
- Tobacco use: Tobacco products can cause inflammation in the upper airway, which can trigger fluid retention. Together, fluid retention and inflammation can further narrow an already restricted airway.
- Sickness: Nasal congestion caused by illness or allergies can make breathing while asleep much more challenging. The result can be loud snoring that resolves once the nasal passage is decongested.
- Certain medical conditions: Asthma, polycystic ovary syndrome, congestive heart failure, and type 2 diabetes are just a few medical conditions that can trigger or worsen obstructive sleep apnea.
Can snoring cause high blood pressure?
Yes. Experts believe that snoring and high blood pressure are intrinsically linked. Here’s why.
Obstructive sleep apnea alters our natural breathing patterns while we sleep. Typically, this means that we fail to get enough oxygen into our bodies to fully support bodily functions. But, that’s not all.
Sudden and significant drops in blood oxygen can trigger high blood pressure. This may be the body’s way of absorbing as much oxygen as possible during sleep apnea episodes.
Unfortunately, however, high blood pressure (also called hypertension) can persist even after waking. Prolonged hypertension can place undue stress on the heart, which may eventually lead to a heart attack, stroke, or an irregular heartbeat.
Do I have to treat sleep apnea?
We always recommend that patients treat sleep apnea as soon as the issue arises. Otherwise, prolonged and untreated sleep apnea may lead to devastating consequences, such as:
- Excessive daytime fatigue: Sleep apnea and snoring make it extremely difficult to establish full and healthy sleep cycles. Interrupted sleep patterns can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness that impacts performance.
- Type 2 diabetes: Sleep apnea affects the way the pancreas functions, which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Indeed, many experts believe that sleep apnea may be a primary risk factor for nonalcoholic fatty pancreatic disease.
- Heart issues: From fibrillations to heart attacks, untreated sleep apnea can lead to significant heart damage.
- Liver issues: We commonly hear of liver damage caused by alcohol abuse. But, it is not usually to blame for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Indeed, improper sleep and stressful lifestyles may be the primary causes of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Social stigma: We cannot help snoring, but that doesn’t stop it from being a nuisance to our loved ones while they try to sleep. Feelings of guilt and shame surrounding sleep apnea and snoring can take a significant toll on one’s mental and social health over time.
These are just a few of the ways that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can take a toll on our lives. In truth, sleep apnea and snoring can invade every part of our lives, effectively decreasing our overall happiness and quality of life.
How can I treat obstructive sleep apnea?
There are many things we can do to address obstructive sleep apnea, such as:
- Losing some weight if overweight (even five pounds can make a noticeable difference!)
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Limiting (or quitting!) alcohol and tobacco use
- Taking nasal decongestants when sick or during allergy season
- Avoiding muscle relaxers or sedatives before bed
- Sleeping on the side
- Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machines
- Personalized oral appliances
A cocktail of solutions may be the best way to treat obstructive sleep apnea. Ultimately, a trained professional will be able to help you get treatment that suits your needs best.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea and Snoring in Sacramento, CA
If sleep apnea and snoring are interrupting your life, let Dr. Timothy Mickiewicz help. Get started with our dentist in Sacramento, CA, by scheduling appointments here or at (916) 469-9178.