Dangers of Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, and The Importance of Good Sleep
Sleep is important to our overall health and wellbeing. It is when the body heals itself and regenerates new cells and stores up energy to get ready for the next day. It is recommended that most people get 8 hours of sleep each night but for many people today, getting anywhere close to that is a big challenge most nights. The inability to sleep well at night is known as insomnia and it can have many causes and many negative effects on your health and wellbeing. It is important to understand how sleep works and why it is hard to get a good night’s sleep at times and how your local dentist can help.
Insomnia Fast Facts
Insomnia is what we call that all too familiar event when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep even when you have done everything you can and should to be ready for bed. Insomnia may vary in severity from one person to the next but generally will include:
- Difficulty in getting to sleep at night even though it’s time to sleep
- Problems with staying asleep long enough at night to get enough sleep
- Waking up in the morning too early and being unable to get back to sleep
Insomnia will make it hard to get a restful night sleep and it will also affect how you feel the rest of the day. The effects of insomnia can impact nearly every aspect of your life. It slows reaction time, clouds judgment, makes us irritable, causes us to feel groggy, and makes it easier for us to get sick. Just about everyone has times where they don’t sleep well and feel rested in the morning- but this is most often because we didn’t go to bed early enough, had caffeine before bed, or did or didn’t do things to help us get to sleep and stay asleep. These instances are not insomnia- insomnia occurs when you cannot sleep even when you do everything you are supposed to do. Studies have shown that more than a third of all adults complain of insomnia for a week or two at least once in their lifetime.
There are two types of insomnia most commonly diagnosed and that are important to know in order to be better at understanding how sleep works and why insomnia strikes:
- Short-term insomnia: A brief form of insomnia lasting as long as three months with at least one night a week marked with poor sleep. It occurs in 15 to 20 percent of people.
- Chronic insomnia: This classification of insomnia occurs at least three times per week for a minimum of three months’ time. About 10 percent of people are diagnosed.
The reason it is important to understand insomnia and the type you may have because it can be an indication of a more serious condition- sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea – Overview & Facts
“Obstructive sleep apnea is a common and serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during sleep. The airway repeatedly becomes blocked, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. When this happens, you may snore loudly or make 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. In many cases, an apnea, or temporary pause in breathing, is caused by the tissue in the back of the throat collapsing. The muscles of the upper airway relax when you fall asleep” (SleepEducation.org).
The lack of oxygen to major organs of your body not only affects things like energy levels and mental sharpness, it can also have major long-term consequences for your health such as:
- High blood pressure
- Indigestion an GERD
- Heart disease and heart failure
- Stroke or heart attack
- Pre-diabetes and diabetes
- Depression and anxiety
- Breathing issues and complications
- Trouble healing and regenerating
There are many people with sleep apnea who have not been diagnosed or received treatment and this is unfortunate because one of the many treatment options will often bring relief and help greatly reduce or often eliminate the symptoms and help restore normal sleep patterns. Obstructive sleep apnea is seen as a sleep-related breathing disorder in adults who are diagnosed. Causes and symptoms differ for obstructive sleep apnea in children and a rarer type of apnea known as central sleep apnea.
The most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring but this does not mean everyone who snores has sleep apnea and it also does not mean that everyone with apnea will snore while they have an attack. Understating how sleep works and why it can be difficult o get when you suffer from sleep apnea is important because you cannot begin to treat it till you understand it and you cannot really understand it until you know more about it. People with sleep apnea often have daytime sleepiness or fatigue and will complain about always feeling tired, worn out, or in a fog or mental haze. Many people who do not know they are suffering from sleep apnea will wake up, after sleeping for what they think is a good 8-9 hours and will feel like they barely got 2-3 hours of sleep. This is due to the interruption in the sleep cycle and the lack of stretches of REM sleep.
Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Snoring that is loud and frequent or changing in pitch
- Silent pauses where breathing stops – can vary in duration
- Choking or gasping sounds as one struggles to breathe
- Daytime fatigue, sleepiness or lack of energy
- Unrefreshing sleep and feeling groggy no matter the hours slept
- Insomnia and inability to sleep or stay asleep some nights
- Morning headaches and sore throat
- Nocturia – frequent waking to urinate at night
- Difficulty concentrating, brain fog, and low metabolism levels
- Memory loss, confusion, or absent-mindedness
- Decreased sexual desire or issues with libido
- Irritability, mood swings, and depression/anxiety episodes
While it is not clear exactly what causes one to have apnea, there is one major risk factor that makes you much more likely to develop sleep apnea and that is excess body weight. Apnea occurs most often in people who are obese or very overweight. Some studies have shown that your risk for sleep apnea goes up a great deal once you hit a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more and especially if you are obese with a BMI of 30 or higher. However, it is important to note that apnea does happen in slim people or those with stubborn fatty deposits in certain areas of their body. So while weight is a contributing factor and is one of the biggest risks you can help control, it is not the end all solution in some cases which is why it is important to talk to a sleep expert about your symptoms.
Sleep Apnea – Self-Tests
Understanding how sleep works and how issues like sleep apnea interrupt this natural cycle is important to finding ways to overcome it and reverse the effects. One way to start doing this is by giving yourself a self-test to see if you may be suffering from sleep apnea without even realizing it. The following questions will help you assess your risk for sleep apnea:
- Are any of these problems something you struggle with on a regular basis?
- Daytime sleepiness
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Do you ever suddenly wake up out of deep sleep gasping for breath or feeling like you were chocking, drowning, or unable to breathe?
- Has your partner mentioned that you snore or stop breathing quite regularly while you are sleeping?
- Have you noticed these other symptoms more than 1-2 times a week?
- Nocturia and trouble getting back to sleep
- Morning headaches and sore neck
- Sore dry throat in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss and brain fog
- Feeling more anxious or depressed
- Decreased sexual desire
- Irritability and mood swings
- Do you have any of these physical features?
- Obesity or being very overweight
- Large neck size
- Enlarged tongue or tonsils
- Recessed jaw
- Nasal polyps or deviated septum
- Have you been diagnosed with any of these conditions that often coincide with sleep apnea and that can be made worse by it?
- High blood pressure
- Mood disorders
- Congestive heart failure
- Heart attack
- Indigestion, GERD, IBS
- Coronary artery disease
- Stroke or blood clots
- Type 2 diabetes
With the answers in mind, you should now have a bit of a better understanding of the chances of you having or developing sleep apnea related problems. If you suspect you are suffering from apnea it is important to talk to your healthcare provider and get referred to a sleep specialist as soon as possible so that they can make an official diagnosis and start recommending treatment options.
Sleep Apnea – Diagnosis
“A board certified sleep medicine physician can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea using an in-lab sleep study or a home sleep apnea test. A board-certified sleep physician has training and expertise in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea. The physician will need to know your symptoms, and whether they began when you gained weight or stopped exercising. If you can, ask a partner or roommate or relative if they have ever heard you snore loudly or make choking noises in your sleep. You may also need to keep a sleep diary for two weeks… This will help the doctor see your sleep patterns, which could contain clues about how to diagnose and correct your sleep problem” (SleepEducation.org).
A sleep specialist will also be able to see if there are additional conditions or medical concerns that need to be addressed because they are making the apnea worse or are being made worse by your apnea:
- Another related but separate sleep disorder
- An underlying and previously undiagnosed medical condition
- Medication that is being used to treat another condition
- A mental health condition or a related disorder
- Substance abuse or addiction
Sleep Apnea – Treatment
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder and needs to be carefully and properly addressed by a sleep specialist and your physician. Together they can develop a plan of treatment that is right for you to help relieve and reduce your symptoms and give you a better night sleep and thus lessen the stress and damage your body faces each night because of the sleep apnea. Understanding how sleep works and what can be done to fight sleep apnea and give you the restful and regenerative night sleep you need is important to protecting your overall health and wellbeing. Your plan may include any combination of these treatments:
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)
CPAP is a specially designed machine that keeps the airways open throughout the night with a steady stream of gentle air pressure. This keeps your throat and nasal passages open and clear so you are able to breathe. You sleep with a mask on your mouth and nose that is connected to the machine by a hose where the air pressure will come from.
Oral Appliance Therapy
Sometimes the use of oral appliances is needed to fight apnea. This is a device that fits in your mouth over your teeth while you sleep. It works by preventing the tongue from sliding back into the throat and keeps the airways open by keeping your jaw in the proper position. Some people find these appliances easier to sleep with than a CPAP.
There are many different surgical options to choose from if you have tried a CPAP or other device or appliance and have not had much success. These surgical procedure work to remove excess skin and fat in the area of the throat and neck and tonsils. The more involved procedures focus on the sinuses and nasal passages and the jawbone.
In some cases, losing weight can help reduce the severity of sleep apnea symptoms. There is no guarantee dropping pounds will eliminate your sleep apnea, but it cannot hurt and, in many cases, will at least help and make other forms of treatment easier and all the more effective when they are tried.
Positional therapy is one of the specialized types of behavioral strategy therapy that can be used to treat what is known as positional sleep apnea. Some people have sleep apnea primarily when sleeping on their back. This therapy focuses on retraining the body to sleep in a different position so as to not trigger the apnea because of their position.
You can work to reduce your snoring and lethargy as well as improve your sleep apnea symptoms. Behavioral changes can go a long way in improving your overall health and quality of life and they can also go a long way in reducing sleep apnea symptoms- quitting smoking or not drinking alcohol may improve sleep apnea symptoms.
Sleep is important to our overall health and wellbeing. Sleep is the time each day where they body regenerates and heals and recovers from everything that happened that day. Sleep is when the body prepares for what lies ahead in the morning and when you do not get enough sleep your body is not prepared and you can feel those effects in a very powerful way. It is recommended that most people get 8 hours of sleep each night but for many people, today, getting anywhere close to that is a big challenge most nights. The inability to sleep well at can have its roots in many causes and conditions but the most prevalent and the most underdiagnosed and treated is sleep apnea. It is important to understand how sleep works and why it is hard to get a good night’s sleep at times. Now that you know this it is time to take action and start fighting the effects of your sleep apnea and reclaim your nights!