A friend who is an Internist recently shared a conversation she had with a mid-50’s patient. The patient asked for sleeping pills because he felt his quality of sleep had declined, leaving him dragging throughout the day. Wisely, the doctor asked a questions first and learned that the patient had recently adopted a dog who was sleeping on the bed. It suddenly occurred to the patient that his new dog was snoring and moving around on the bed at night, causing him to stir awake, likely many times without him knowing it.
There are many things that can interfere with sleep quality. The repercussions can may be temporary (a passing siren in the middle of the night) to those that are ongoing. The problems associated with a consistent pattern of poor sleep can range greatly, with some being initially bothersome and others that can lead to serious health problems.
Like the patient mentioned prior, he was struggling with daytime fatigue. Some sleep deprived people also experience memory fog, become more accident prone, endure headaches, gain weight, and nod off easily (even behind the wheel).
There is a misconception that people who are heavy snorers or have sleep apnea have thick necks, are overweight, or older. Some of our sleep apnea patients are young and otherwise fit. Some sleep silently all night, yet suffer with sleep apnea without the presence of snoring. Children can also suffer with sleep apnea.
As a matter of fact, the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) states: “Studies have suggested that as many as 25 percent of children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may actually have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and that much of their learning difficulty and behavior problems can be the consequence of chronic fragmented sleep.” (https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/childrens-sleep-apnea/)
Interestingly, the ASAA also shares: “In 1910, the average adult American slept nine hours a night. Since then the average has dropped steadily. Most sleep physicians believe that the average adult needs eight to eight-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, with seven hours being the minimum for almost everyone. Nonetheless, surveying by the Centers for Disease Control shows that the percentage of Americans between 25 and 64 who sleep six hours or less a night increased from 20 to 25 percent in 1985 to 30 percent in 2004.” (https://www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/)
A sleep study will confirm if, indeed, you suffer with sleep apnea. It will also show the degree of sleep apnea you have. For severe levels, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device is advised. This is a mask worn over the face at night. The mask has a hose that attaches to a machine that forces air into airway passages. While not attractive or convenient, the CPAP is effective in its goal to deliver much-needed oxygen to the body.
Unfortunately, many cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed. An estimated 22 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea with 80 percent of people with moderate to severe sleep apnea going undiagnosed. As mentioned prior, some people make no noise. Others may assume their snoring alone is the disruptive factor to their sleep.
This is why it is wise to be aware of the symptoms of sleep apnea. They include: daytime fatigue, nodding off easily during the day, feeling foggy or forgetful, having less energy, gaining weight, enduring headaches, becoming depressed, being unmotivated or feeling less social. However, as sleep apnea continues, the problems get worse.
It is common knowledge that when you cut off one’s oxygen, he or she will eventually pass out. The brain simply relies on a steady flow of oxygen in order to function properly. Imagine depriving the brain of oxygen for up to a minute at a time, occurring hundreds of times night after night. This is what can occur with sleep apnea.
So, it should be to no surprise that the depleted oxygen flow from sleep apnea can lead to heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, memory loss, declined libido, and even diabetes. Sleep apnea sufferers behind the wheel have also been described as more deadly than drunk drivers.
As a dentist who treats patients who snore heavily or have mild to moderate sleep apnea with FDA-approved sleep appliances, we try to look at the entire picture. While a custom-designed sleep appliance can resolve heavy snoring or sleep apnea, we want their nightly rejuvenation to be beneficial to their lifestyle as well as their health.
In our dental office, we carefully examine the patient – the size of the tongue, position of teeth, airway passages, soft palate, etc. This enables us to custom-create a small oral appliance that is worn comfortably during sleep. For those with mild to moderate levels of sleep apnea, this means they can avoid having to wear a cumbersome CPAP device.
Once the appliance is created, we also provide patients with helpful tips to optimize the quality of their sleep. These include:
1. Sleep on your side.
This helps to keep your airway open & reduces the potential for heartburn and acid reflux.
2. Elevate the head of your bed 6-8 inches.
Place several pillows between the box spring and the mattress, positioned under the mattress at the head of the bed. Avoid stacking pillows under your head since it can lead to neck issues.
3. Use Breathe Right nasal strips.
These come in small or large and it helps to purchase the appropriate size. The clear ones are best for sensitive skin. There is a helpful video on Breathe Right’s website that demonstrates how it works and how to use it. (https://www.breatheright.com/how-breathe-right-strips-work/try-breathe-right.html) Avoid generic brands and the advanced versions.
4. Use nasal spray every night right before bed.
Begin by blowing your nose to clear it. Consider a hot shower before bed since inhaling steam can loosen congestion. Our patients give us the best feedback about Flonase (available over the counter) rather than Afrin.
5. Keep your bedroom dark.
Make sure the room is perfectly dark while you’re sleeping. You can use a mask over your eyes. Dim lights for an hour or two leading up to sleep time. Avoid using electronics with a screen within two hours of bedtime, which interferes with melatonin levels. Avoid laying down within 30 minutes of eating as this will increase your risk of heartburn.
6. Keep your bedroom cool.
Studies show that the ideal temperature for sleep is 65 degrees. A programmable thermostat can be set to drop the temperature down to that level late into the night and back up to more comfortable levels in the morning.
7. Keep the air clean and at the right humidity.
An air cleaner helps if your furnace system is old. Otherwise, change the air filter on your furnace every month and use one with high filtration. Use a humidifier in the winter if your house is dry. The humidity in your bedroom should be between 30 & 50%.
8. Use your oral sleep appliance EVERY NIGHT.
Once you have an oral appliance, it’s important that your airway becomes accustomed to the new open path at the back of your throat down to your lungs. Regular nightly use ensures it stays open.
Your intake of oxygen is an important part of your overall health. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, snore, or have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, begin with a free consultation. During this time, we’ll discuss options that can help you regain a quality of sleep that is restful, rejuvenating, and healthy!
Call 586-739-2155 to schedule or to learn more.