It’s a total mystery. You go to bed every night at the same time and get a full eight hours of sleep, but every morning you wake up groggy and fatigued. Changes in routine, sleepy teas, and a calm atmosphere for sleep haven’t worked. You have talked to your doctor, but they can’t find anything physically wrong. If this sounds like you, then you may be one of the 25 million people in the U.S. who suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea remains one of the most underdiagnosed sleep disorders, but there is good news. Sleep apnea devices can help treat the problem. Here’s how you can find the good night’s sleep you’re looking for.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea affects between 9% to 21% of women and 24% to 34% of men in the U.S. Those who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing at various points in the night. These pauses can last for up to ten seconds, with pauses up to five times an hour. The brain senses that the body is not breathing and jars the sleeper awake. While breathing is a reflexive action in the body, sleep apnea sufferers sometimes lose this reflex to breathe.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of this condition. For sufferers, extra, relaxed tissue blocks their throat. This causes the sleeper to stop breathing until the brain jolts them awake.
Central sleep apnea is less common. This type of sleep apnea is caused by the failure of the nervous system to send the brain breathing signals. Breathing has to be intentional, and a sleeping person has difficulty doing that.
Whichever type is present, this nighttime back-and-forth results in very light sleep, the kind that is not deeply restful and satisfying. Sleep apnea is a chronic disease that can have widespread health effects. Lack of adequate sleep has been causally linked to a number of health risks, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of mortality
Accidents, cognitive decline, and decreased sex drive have also all been linked to poor quality sleep.
What are traditional sleep apnea treatments?
Traditional sleep apnea treatments can vary from lifestyle changes to CPAP machines to oral devices for sleep apnea. For mild to moderate sleep apnea, your doctor may begin your treatment plan with the following three lifestyle changes.
- Weight loss: People who are obese are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea. On the other hand, those with sleep apnea are more likely to be obese. Losing weight is the common denominator that can improve not only sleep apnea but also overall general health.
- Cutting back on alcohol: A quick nightcap may seem like a good idea to help ease you into sleep, but the opposite is true. A drink before bed may help sleep come more quickly, but it is lighter and less restful overall.
- Smoking cessation: Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health, and it also happens to help those who suffer from sleep apnea.
What about CPAP machines for sleep apnea?
For moderate to severe sleep apnea, more aggressive intervention is needed. In addition to the three lifestyle changes above, doctors traditionally reach for positive airway pressure devices. The most well-known of these is the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure).
The CPAP machine provides pressurized air that keeps the throat open continually. The BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) and VPAP (variable positive airway pressure) supply air on a variable schedule (or in a different manner). The sleep wears a snug mask over the mouth and nose and sleeps as normal.
When used correctly, positive airway pressure devices have been proven to dramatically improve a person’s quality (and quantity of sleep). But the keywords in that sentence are “when used properly.” Because of the noise, the discomfort of the mask, and the overall hassle of the machine itself, compliance with this treatment can be dramatically low.
Any positive airway pressure device is only as effective as the person using it. If you’ve tried a CPAP machine for sleep apnea and haven’t found relief, you do have another option.
How do dental sleep apnea devices work?
Another effective treatment option might be just in reach of the dentist’s chair. And, recent research shows that it’s just as effective as a CPAP machine.
You might not connect a sleep disorder with the dentist, but dentists are in a good position to offer a preliminary diagnosis. People who suffer from sleep apnea often have specific wear patterns in their teeth, different from someone who regularly grinds their teeth. If your dentist suspects you may suffer from sleep apnea, they can refer you to a sleep center for a thorough evaluation. Once your diagnosis is confirmed, consider a custom-fitted oral device for sleep apnea.
Dental devices for sleep apnea can be an effective first-line treatment for many peo