What is Sleep Apnea and Sleep Disordered Breathing?
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is characterized by the closing off of the airway such that no air can pass through the airway. We all have airways that start from the nose, through the sinuses, through the throat and into the bronchi and then the lungs. This airway needs to be constantly patent. If the airway is allowed to close, it will cause a choking event.
How Does Sleep Apnea Effect the Body?
Sleep Apnea is when you experience this choking event during the night when you are sleeping. Air does not get through the airway, so carbon dioxide levels in the blood rise to the point where we are startled to arouse ourselves from that choking state. We don’t “wake up” consciously but we come out of our “sleep” stage. We get a rush of epinephrine into the system that is essentially a “fight or flight” response. This constricts our blood vessels and shocks our system into action, like we were seeing a grizzly bear in our sleep, enough to open our airway again. We then we fall back to sleep until the next apneic (choking event).
How Sleep Apnea Effects REM Sleep
People with sleep apnea can have 60 or more apneic events per hour. That puts a tremendous stress on the body (the circulatory system and the heart) and it prevents a person from reaching the deeper levels of sleep that actually recharge the body.
We need deep REM sleep to recharge our bodies from the energy we have expended (both mental and physical) each day. The large percentage of our sleep should be in the deep REM stage. If you have sleep apnea you may never reach the REM stage of sleep.
This will have dramatic consequences for your general health and quality of life. REM sleep is important to your sleep cycle because it stimulates the areas of your brain that are essential in learning and making or retaining memories.
It is not uncommon for a person with sleep apnea to awake and feel as if they never went to sleep. Laying in bed unconscious is not sleep. This is sleep deprivation. It increases your blood pressure, increases your risk for heart attack by 23x, and increases your risk of stroke by 15x. It also will be accompanied by daytime sleepiness.
Some people have airways that are partially blocked through the night and this will affect the bodies ability to take in adequate oxygen as well. This can be snoring and/or Sleep disordered breathing.
How Sleep Apnea Effects the Brain
Children who have sleep disordered breathing are much more likely to have behavioral issues. These can include:
- ADD / ADHD
These disorders can be caused by the chronic deprivation of oxygen to the brain caused by sleep apnea and disordered breathing. There are many studies that verify this. For this reason you should observe your children to see if they snore at night or have any form of restless sleep.
Snoring is not normal at all. It is a health issue and a precursor of sleep apnea. If you witness these events or suspect them in yourself or family members then you need to see an ENT as soon as possible to check for airway obstruction. You may need a sleep test to determine the severity of your sleep issues. You should also look for a dentist who specializes in airway centric dentistry. This may mean changing your bite in order to create more airway.
Causes of sleep disordered breathing:
- Lower jaw set too far back.
- Excessive weight in the neck area
- Upper airway obstruction (allergies, deviated septum’s., enlarged tonsils, etc.)
Everyone should see an ENT no later than 4 years of age regardless of whether you note symptoms or not. It is that important!!!
If you have these disorders or if you expect that you might you should visit an a qualified ENT and an dentist trained in airway development.
Possible options are :
- CPAP machine (treats symptoms only but has value)
- Sleep appliance (Mandibular advancement device) treats symptoms
- Expansion of arch forms and mandibular jaw advancement (non surgically or surgically in some cases) treats the root causations.