Snoring & Sleep Apnea
Snoring and Sleep Apnea: What’s the Difference?
Sleep disordered breathing (SDB) is a spectrum. The mildest form of SDB is snoring, which results from turbulent airflow causing the tissues of the nose and throat to vibrate during sleep. Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is when the snoring or resistance through the airway is significant enough to disrupt the quality of sleep and cause arousals. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the soft tissues of the airway relax, resulting in complete or partial obstruction of the upper airway. OSA is characterized by repetitive episodes of shallow or paused breathing during sleep, despite the effort to breathe, and is usually associated with a reduction in blood oxygen saturation. These episodes are followed by brief awakenings that disturb sleep.
What are the effects of snoring and sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea prevents deep, restful sleep — cut off from a constant stream of fresh air, the body panics and shocks a person awake during the night. People with sleep apnea often wake up with headaches and feel tired throughout the day. Poor sleep quality can cause problems such as fatigue, memory loss, lack of energy, depression, and anxiety. Sleep apnea may also lead to or aggravate a number of serious health problems, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Elevated blood pressure
- Compromised immune system
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD, or heartburn)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Clenching can be a compensatory mechanism for sleep disordered breathing, as this tenses up the jaw and neck muscles to keep the airway open. This stresses the jaw and neck, which can result in facial pain and headaches.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Most people who suffer from sleep apnea use a mechanical “CPAP” (continuous positive air pressure) device: patients sleep with a nose mask connected to an air compressor and humidifier. The device blows air through the body’s airways, keeping them open during sleep. While effective for many, some people are not able to tolerate CPAP machines. Difficulties can occur during use:
- CPAP machines can force air down into the stomach instead of the lungs. A person may swallow air or have air leak out of their mouth during sleep.
- The sinus can become infected and nasal passages may be blocked while using CPAP machines.
- For some, the mask can irritate the skin or be displaced by movement during the night.
While rare, CPAP can even be counterproductive: some patients sleep and breath worse due to the pressure of the mask on their face.
Additional treatment options for sleep apnea include surgery, implantable devices, oral appliances, and self-care measures.
Are there alternatives to CPAP Therapy?
As an alternative, the Minnesota Craniofacial Center provides snoring and sleep apnea patients with custom-fitted oral appliances to wear while sleeping. Small, compact, and requiring no tubing or power, the appliance works by moving the jaw forward during sleep. This gives the throat muscles room to relax, allowing more air into the body’s airways. Convenient for people who travel frequently or go to remote areas without electricity, these appliances may be used in different ways:
- For many, wearing an oral appliance every night is enough to treat obstructive sleep apnea.
- Some use CPAP when they’re at home and use oral appliances when they travel, or when their nose is obstructed by colds or allergies.
- For severe cases, an oral appliance can be used together with CPAP by lowering air pressure to a tolerable but effective level.
The oral appliance is also easy to keep clean: simply scrub the appliance with denture toothbrush and denture toothpaste each morning, rinse it, and put it away for use the next night.
Is an oral appliance right for me?
Even though you may snore, only a doctor with extensive training in sleep apnea can determine if an oral appliance is right for you. Sleep studies must be conducted first to determine if there is a problem. A clinical exam and X-rays of your airways also need to be considered to evaluate if you are a good candidate for oral appliance therapy.
We at the Minnesota Craniofacial Center are committed to optimizing sleep quality through comprehensive measures including improving sleep habits/sleep hygiene, positional therapy, oral exercises, and referral to other specialists when appropriate.