Sleep Apnea and Snoring


Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is when the walls of the throat completely collapse, obstructing the airway. This causes you to stop breathing momentarily. The lack of oxygen triggers your brain to wake up, which restarts the normal breathing process. Usually, you lapse right back into sleep, so you don’t even notice it.

Unfortunately, this cycle of stopped breathing, waking, and going back to sleep can occur frequently – as many as 20 to 30 times per hour. The combination of fragmented sleep and oxygen deprivation may lead to hypertension, heart disease, and strokes in addition to problems with drowsiness and mood.

Of chronic snorers, approximately 18 million Americans are believed to suffer from some form of sleep apnea.

The Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea

The warning signs of sleep apnea are similar to those for snoring, as it’s really an advanced stage of snoring. You may be suffering from sleep apnea if you:

  • Experience extreme drowsiness or fall asleep during the day, despite what seems like an appropriate amount of sleep.
  • Get headaches immediately upon waking in the morning.
  • Wake up at night experiencing a shortness of breath.
  • Make snorting or choking sounds during sleep, in addition to snoring.

Snoring Prevention & Sleep Apnea

If you snore while sleeping, you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 90 million Americans snore occasionally. Of these, 37 million are regular snorers.

Why Do People Snore?

Snoring is loosely defined as noisy breathing during sleep.

When you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax and your tongue falls backward. Your throat narrows as the muscles and tissue relax, constricting your airway. This causes vibrations in the throat as you breathe in, which create the sounds of snoring. As you breathe out, the same thing happens, but to a much lesser extent, which is why the snoring sounds on exhale are much fainter.

As your airway continues to narrow, the vibrations increase and the sound of snoring grows louder.

So What’s Wrong With Snoring?

Snoring may not seem like a big deal, but it can have serious side effects and lead to severe health issues as well.

The first and most obvious problem is the disruption of sleep, both for yourself and those around you. Fragmented sleep is not as refreshing as deep sleep, of course, and can lead to daytime drowsiness that impacts your performance. Extended sleep deprivation can have a serious effect on your total health, as well.  More serious conditions include increased risk of heart disease and sleep apnea.

What Contributes to Snoring?

There are certain factors which make a tighter airway – and therefore snoring – more likely. Some of these are:

  • Age. As you grow older, the natural aging process causes your throat to grow more relaxed.
  • Obesity. Being overweight creates more tissue around the throat and narrows the airway, making this a significant factor in your likelihood of snoring.
  • Nose and Throat Issues. Conditions like enlarged tonsils, nasal polyps, and deviated septums can cause your throat pathway to constrict more than usual.
  • Respiratory Ailments. Temporary swelling or inflammation of the nose or throat, caused by conditions such as infections and allergies, can cause a tighter airway.
  • Alcohol and Other Relaxants. Drinking alcohol or taking relaxants such as sleeping pills cause more relaxation in the throat than usual and can lead to snoring.
  • Sleep Position. Sleeping on your back may contribute to these factors, especially with blockage from the tongue, and is more likely to lead to snoring.


Your First Line of Defense: A Mandibular Advancement Device

One simple potential treatment for snoring is called a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD). This is a special dental tool designed to be worn during sleep. It helps you keep your lower jaw (mandible) in a forward position. This position increases the space inside your airway, helps you breathe better, and reduces or eliminates snoring.

The MAD is designed for comfort … while many people are skeptical of it, most users report that they barely even realize it’s there. Your MAD also improves breathing restricted by sufferers of allergies and congestion.

Other, more elaborate, devices are available to keep your tongue from blocking your airway as well. Your dentist will be able to help you decide which solution is right for you. If you have concerns and are interested in pursuing a custom sleep appliance and follow-up evaluation, please fill out the history forms in the link below, and the office will contact you to set up an initial appointment.

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Other Treatments for Snoring and Sleep Apnea

While simple devices like the MAD can be immediate solutions for solving your night-time breathing problems, there are two more permanent solutions: behavioral and surgery.

Behavioral treatments involve reducing or eliminating those factors which contribute to snoring in the first place. You obviously can’t do anything about your age, but you can change your weight and habits like smoking, drinking, use of relaxants, and sleeping position. This is the same as a diabetic monitoring their sugar or someone with hypertension avoiding too much salt.


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