Snoring Can Kill You

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What do John Candy, Jerry Garcia, and Queen Victoria have in common?


Sleep Apnea affects more than 15 million North Americans according to the American College of Physicians.  This number does not include those people who remain undiagnosed or have been improperly diagnosed. 

Apnea means an involuntary stop in breathing for at least 20 seconds.  And its effects are far reaching and include daytime fatigue, increased probability of heart disease and high blood pressure, brain cell changes as a result of lack of oxygen to the brain cells.  Sleep Apnea has even been suggested as being a contributing factor to the onset of diabetes. 

If you want to find out if you suffer from sleep apnea talk to your physician and dentist about your symptoms and ask if they think it necessary for you to have a sleep study conducted. You are considered to suffer from sleep apnea if you have 5 or more apneic episodes in an hour, have an irregular heart beat, lower oxygen saturation and you frequently get up from sleeping.  Other indications of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, head and neck pain when you wake up, dry mouth, daytime sleepiness which leads to an inability to focus on daily tasks and in some cases it can lead to accidents. 

 In the past, we have believed that there are two types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.  Now we have found that another category of patients suffer from a combination of the two – a form of sleep apnea that has far greater and serious consequences.

 So there are three types of sleep apnea.

 The first type is obstructive sleep apnea, where the tissues and muscles of the throat relax and become a flap that prevents air from flowing from your nose and mouth to your lungs.  The tongue also falls back over the windpipe and acts as a plug stopping air flow.  In this type of sleep apnea, the air stops flowing through the nose and mouth even though the abdominal muscles and diaphragm try to move air into the lungs.  It looks like you are breathing, but you are not.

 The second type of sleep apnea is Central sleep apnea. In this case, the breathing centre (the medulla, which regulates breathing) becomes less efficient, and you experience episodes when you stop breathing.  Recent studies suggest that one of the reasons this occurs is the lack of oxygen getting to the brain due to decreased blood flow.  One reason for the lack of blood flow is that the blood vessels that run along the neck and up to the brain stem get constricted by stiff neck muscles which act like a tourniquet that stops vital blood flow.  The reason for the stiffening of the muscles is the misalignment of the jaws and teeth – Neuromuscular Imbalance. In this type of sleep apnea, not only does the air not enter the lungs due to lack of breathing, but the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm also stop working.

 The third type of sleep apnea is mixed or complex sleep apnea.  In this case type, there are both obstructive and central causes for sleep apnea, and these are probably the most dangerous.  This usually starts with mostly obstructive sleep apnea and some episodes of central sleep apnea.  This then progresses to more episodes of central sleep apnea until eventually there will be mostly central sleep apnea and a few episodes of obstructive sleep apnea. 

If left untreated, sleep apnea leads to loss of vital brain cells, and could eventually lead to death. 

So why do you start breathing again?  When you stop breathing, the level of carbon dioxide in the blood increases.  This sends feedback to your brain to jumpstart the breathing process – you take a quick deep breath that starts at your diaphragm, and as the diaphragm moves upwards, the pressure created clears the obstruction and breathing resumes.  Until the next apneic episode, when the cycle starts all over again. 

Sleep apnea is treatable.  If not recognized and dealt with, in time can lead to serious health complications and death.  In addition, the lack of oxygen to the brain kills brain cells (unlike other cells in the body, brain cells are not replaced) and affects memory, concentration, and focus. 

 Sleep apnea increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. 

If you or someone you care about snores, wakes up frequently gasping for air, clenches, and grinds, or wakes up every morning feeling tired, talk to your physician or a Neuromuscular dentist to find out if you are suffering from sleep apnea.  Take control of your health today and wake up for many mornings to come.  

So, what did John Candy, Jerry Garcia and Queen Victoria have in common? Could it be undiagnosed sleep apnea?