A good night's sleep is vitally important for your health. If you or your partner wake up during the night, feeling like you've stopped breathing, you could have a condition known as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
This is a serious sleep disorder that can have a major impact on health and quality of life without treatment.
What is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?
OSA happens when the walls of your throat or nose close during sleep. This blocks the flow of oxygen to your lungs and around your body. Your brain picks up on this after a number of seconds and forces you to wake up. This may be accompanied by choking or gasping for air.
There are different degrees of obstructive sleep apnoea. People with severe OSA can be woken up hundreds of times every night.
What are common sleep apnoea symptoms?
Many people don't remember waking up in the night and only realise their sleep was disturbed when someone tells them about it or when they suffer the effects the next day.
People who suffer from sleep apnoea also often snore loudly, have interrupted breathing and toss and turn during the night. By day, you may feel tired, have a headache and have trouble with memory or concentration.
Who is at risk?
You may be more at risk of developing sleep apnoea if you're overweight, have large tonsils or adenoids or a tight throat or nasal passages, as these can cause the air passages to close more easily.
Most people with sleep apnoea are middle aged or older, but this sleep disorder can affect people of all ages, including children.
What are the dangers of sleep apnoea?
Poor quality sleep can affect health and wellbeing in many ways. If your memory or concentration are affected, this can affect your performance at work or school, cause you to make bad decisions. It can also make activities such as driving and operating machinery more dangerous.
Moderate to severe sleep apnoea is also linked with a higher risk of developing serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, as well as psychological disorders such as depression, mood changes and impotence.
What is the best treatment for sleep apnoea?
The best sleep apnoea treatment depends on the individual. Your dentist or doctor will examine your throat and suggest the most appropriate treatment based on what they think is causing your sleep disorder.
Making changes to your sleeping routine and lifestyle could lower your sleep apnoea risk and help you to sleep more soundly, such as:
- going to bed earlier, so you'll be less tired
- not sleeping on your back, so your throat may be less likely to close
- losing weight
- avoiding smoking, sleeping tablets or alcohol in the evening
- using a decongestant spray if your nose is blocked
If these changes don't work, your dentist could provide an oral appliance for you to wear at night that helps to keep your throat open. These appliances can be effective for treating mild to moderate sleep apnoea.
Orthodontic treatment using braces or aligners can also sometimes be an option for treating sleeping and breathing problems if these are related to the position of the jaw.
If your sleep apnoea is more severe, your dentist may refer you to a sleep specialist who can discuss other options such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, which uses pressurised air and a face mask. In the most severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove excess tissue from the airways.
Snoring and sleep apnoea treatment in Auckland
If you think that you or someone in your family might have obstructive sleep apnoea or another sleep problem, our dentists at St Heliers Dental Centre might be able to help.