You may feel like you're sleeping through the night despite the fact that you wake up tired. But you could be waking up several times an hour through the night without even realizing it. In fact, sleep apnea sufferers can wake up hundreds of times per hour.
These tiny little wakeups aren't significant enough for you to remember, so you wake up with the illusion that you've slept through the night. Unfortunately, if you have obstructive sleep apnea, you never achieve restful REM sleep which starts about 90 minutes after sleep starts. And untreated apnea can exacerbate other health problems.
Types Of Apnea
There are two types of apnea: obstructive and central. Obstructive apnea is the most common and is caused by a physically clogged airway that may also cause loud snoring. Central apnea is rare and lives in the brain. It's when the brain doesn't send proper signals to breathe during sleep. If you're really unlucky, you have both forms of the malady, but, for our purposes, we'll focus on the much more prevalent obstructive apnea.
Most people associate obstructive apnea with loud snoring, but the disorder can present itself without those nightly chainsaw sounds. But loud snoring should not be overlooked. It is a very common symptom of obstructive apnea.
The easiest way to see if you might have apnea is through eyewitness testimony. Ask your partner or friend to watch you sleep for a minute. If you appear to choke, gasp or wake up for just a moment, then you may have obstructive apnea. These mini wakeups should be easy to see as sufferers tend to wake up dozens of times per hour.
Symptoms that you can recognize in the morning include dry mouth, morning headache, excessive sleepiness through the day, irritability and difficulty paying attention. After all, it's very hard to get on with a productive day without the benefits of restful REM sleep.
Causes of Obstructive Apnea
The muscles in the soft palate at the back of your throat, including your tonsils and uvula, droop to block your airway. These muscles relax in everyone when they fall asleep, but, if you suffer from obstructive apnea, your soft palate drops a little further.
The blocked off airway causes oxygen levels in the blood to drop to a point where your brain recognizes the problem to hit you with a rush of hormones to wake you up for just a second. You'll stop snoring or choking for just a second and the process repeats. This can happen over 100 times per hour in severe cases.
• Extra weight may put fat deposits in your airway
• The weight of a thick neck can block the airway
• Narrow airway
• Being older
• Men are at a higher risk
• Family history
• Smoking, drug and alcohol use
• Nasal congestion
There are three main treatments for obstructive apnea. Some wear the mask for a CPAP machine which forces air into the throat to keep the airway open. The second treatment is reserved for the most extreme patients. A painful surgery realigns the jaw forward to pull the soft palate forward. Lastly, we can mold a special mouthpiece that pulls the jaw forward. This lifts the soft palate to keep the airway open through the night. It's the easiest, most affordable and least invasive treatment.