Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that makes you stop breathing for periods of at least 10 seconds while you sleep. Most people who have sleep apnea suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which your throat muscles collapse and block your airway. When these episodes occur, your body briefly awakens you from sleep so you can resume breathing.
Minor sleep apnea is characterized as having 5-15 apnea episodes every hour. Moderate sleep apnea is defined as having 15-30 hourly episodes. And severe sleep apnea is defined as having 30 or more episodes per hour.
In addition to interfering with the quality and amount of rest you get, untreated sleep apnea can harm your heart and brain. It can also affect your metabolism and increase your risk of developing chronic, life-threatening conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
In this blog, orthodontist Emanuel Mizrahi, DDS, of Forest Hills Orthodontic Associates in Forest Hills, New York, explains how sleep apnea can affect your overall well-being and how this condition can be treated.
High blood pressure
When an apnea episode occurs, oxygen levels plummet as blocked airways restrict the amount of air that enters your body. This stresses the cardiovascular system and causes a release of adrenalin, which increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
In response, your brain tells your blood vessels to deliver existing oxygen stores to support vital organs and systems. As your heart works harder to deliver more blood to key areas, it increases pressure on the walls of your blood vessels, resulting in a blood pressure that is higher than if you were breathing normally during sleep.
The more often you experience apnea episodes during sleep, the more adrenaline your body releases, and the more often your blood pressure remains elevated. Unfortunately, you can go a long time with high blood pressure and not realize it until it progresses and causes harm.
Having untreated high blood pressure can increase your risk of developing heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for all individuals in the United States.
Type 2 diabetes
Sleep apnea may make you more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes because of the frequent sleep disturbances and sudden awakenings that occur with the condition.
When you experience apnea, your body releases stored glucose as a reaction to the stress of the situation. Unfortunately, without adequate quality sleep, your body can lose the ability to control and maintain your glucose levels in normal ranges. This can increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body is unable to regulate glucose levels.
Sleep apnea can also increase your risk of suffering a stroke, a condition that occurs when the blood supply to your brain is reduced or blocked. This prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching your brain tissue, leading to the death of brain cells.
The low oxygen levels that occur during an apnea episode mean that your body has to exert intense effort to open the blocked airway and reestablish normal breathing. When this occurs, your brain may be deprived of the oxygen it needs to maintain your body’s systems and can lose its ability to regulate itself.
The release of stress hormones that occur at this time can raise blood pressure levels and cause irregular heart rates or atrial fibrillation (AFib), which are principal risk factors for stroke.
Having a stroke while you’re asleep means that you may not have the chance to get immediate treatment, which could increase your risk of suffering permanent brain damage or even death.
Impaired cognitive function
Living with untreated sleep apnea is associated with mild cognitive impairment. This can reduce the following cognitive functions:
- Learning ability
- Psychomotor speed
- Verbal skills
- Visual-spatial skills
The persistent sleep deprivation that occurs with sleep apnea can also cause daytime drowsiness, which could increase your risk of having driving and work-related accidents. Irritability, depression, and mood changes, which can impact your mental and emotional well-being, could also result.
Treating sleep apnea
One of the most effective ways to treat sleep apnea involves the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. A CPAP device works to maintain an open airway while you sleep.
The device delivers a small amount of pressurized air through your nose and/or mouth via a hose and facemask. Wearing the device while you sleep ensures that your body receives the consistent oxygen levels you need to achieve quality sleep and maintain healthy body function.
To ensure a comfortable fit for a good night’s sleep, our team ensures that your machine is properly fitted and that you’re educated in its proper use and maintenance.
To learn more about the dangers of sleep apnea and how our team can help you protect your well-being, book an appointment over the phone with Forest Hills Orthodontic Associates today.