Approximately 22 million people in the United States suffer from a sleep breathing disorder known as sleep apnea. But 80% of the moderate to severe cases haven’t even been diagnosed.
That lack of awareness and treatment is enough to make a doctor lose sleep. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea is connected to almost every major cause of early or sudden death. When you treat sleep apnea, your health improves and your risk for dangerous events falls.
Dana J. Rockey, DMD — founder of South County Sleep Solutions and Prescott Sleep Solutions — specializes in screening, testing and treating sleep-disordered breathing, which includes all three types of sleep apnea. Our teams in Newport Beach, California, and Prescott, Arizona, want you to know about, wonder about, and take action on sleep apnea. Here’s why.
What is apnea?
“Apnea,” or an apneic episode, refers to a pause in your breathing that can last for just a few seconds or up to 30 seconds or more. If you have sleep apnea, you may stop breathing or take in incomplete breaths many times an hour.
You may also experience “hypopnea,” which means you breathe in some oxygen, but not a full breath’s worth.
Hypopnea is similar to sipping a milkshake through a straw that’s partially clogged. Apnea is similar to sipping a milkshake through a totally blocked straw. Nothing gets through.
If you have the most common type of sleep apnea, known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you probably snore. Snoring is the hallmark of OSA, though, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea and the absence of snoring doesn’t mean you don’t have sleep apnea.
With OSA, something physical blocks your airway. It may be an overly large or lazy tongue, tonsils, or even the fat tissue in your neck. Another type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea (CSA) is a brain-signaling problem. It is possible to have both OSA and CSA but it is rare.
Apneas and hypopneas both decrease blood oxygen
If you experience apneas and hypopneas, you’re not taking in enough oxygen while you breathe. Normal blood oxygen saturation levels range from 95-100% during the day. If you have sleep apnea, your blood oxygen saturation levels often fall below 90% while you sleep, which is considered dangerous.
When you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood, you enter a state called hypoxia. Doctors determine how severe your sleep apnea is by using a scale called the apnea hypopnea index (AHI). The AHI measures how often you completely stop breathing (i.e., apnea) or experience hypopnea (i.e., incomplete or stifled breath).
Your sleep apnea diagnosis is based on your AHI score:
- Normal — <5 AHI events per hour
- Mild sleep apnea — 5-14 AHI events per hour
- Moderate sleep apnea — 15-29 AHI events per hour
- Severe — 30 or more AHI events per hour
A sleep test will also calculate your respiratory disturbance index (RDI). The RDI counts up how many times you actually awaken (even for a second or two) due to apnea and hypopnea.
Another thing that may be happening when you experience apnea or hypopnea is that you may grind your teeth, a condition called bruxism. It’s believed that teeth grinding reminds your body to take a breath. However, apnea induced bruxism can wear down or crack your teeth and damage your jaw over time.
Sleep apnea diminishes your health
If your blood oxygen levels are low, that means your cells aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to repair damage and create healthy new cells. Every time your blood oxygen levels drop, your body releases adrenaline in an effort to correct this drop.
Excess adrenaline can cause:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Damaged blood vessels
- Weakened heart
- Heart attacks
Every organ in your body is affected by sleep apnea. Both the lack of oxygen and the lack of complete, restorative sleep means that your body can’t rebuild and detoxify itself, which is its job during sleep. One of the most important organs sleep apnea affects is your brain.
Sleep apnea can damage both the white matter and the gray matter in your brain. This can cause symptoms, such as:
- Memory problems
- Trouble focusing
- Impaired thinking
- Reduced alertness
Sleep apnea, with its oxygen reducing and inflammation causing properties, should be considered as a life shortening or life ending problem which should be taken seriously.
Sleep apnea is treatable
Luckily, treating sleep apnea with an oral appliance or NightLase laser therapy, helps restore your blood oxygen saturation to more normal levels letting you sleep more peacefully throughout the night. Sleep apnea treatment has even been shown to alleviate the symptoms of drowsiness, improving memory and cognition.
Find out if you have sleep apnea, and if you do, get the treatment you need. Call us today at 949-558-0554 in Newport Beach, California, or 928-235-6925 in Prescott, Arizona. You can also reach us via our online message form.