It’s safe to say that everyone has trouble sleeping on occasion. But if you have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, you may be one of the estimated 18 million people who suffer from sleep apnea. This condition is worse than simple insomnia. In fact, sleep apnea can be a life-threatening disorder if it’s not treated properly. People with obstructive sleep apnea snore quite loudly and actually stop breathing for 10 seconds or more when they sleep.

But simply because you are a loud snorer doesn’t necessarily mean you have a life-threatening condition. And there are different levels of severity among the people who have sleep apnea. To determine whether or not you suffer from this sleep disorder, talk to your doctor or dentist and consider the following symptoms, any combination of which could indicate sleep apnea:

  • Waking up with a headache
  • Excessive snoring
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Inability to focus on daily tasks
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat

Because sleep apnea is connected with breathing issues related to an obstructed airway, many dentists treat sleep apnea problems in their patients. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the condition. Someone with mild sleep apnea may be able to alleviate the symptoms by simply changing positions while sleeping. Patients may be advised to alter some habits that might contribute to the condition, such as quitting smoking or losing some weight, for example. The dentist may also recommend use of a mouthguard, which is a dental appliance the patient wears while sleeping that keeps the jaw and tongue in the right position to optimize the flow of air through air passageways.

Patients with extreme cases of sleep apnea may be referred to a sleep disorder specialist. In these cases, the patient could be prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) system to wear while sleeping. Although these devices have been shown to be effective in treating sleep apnea, many patients find that the mask/air delivery method is uncomfortable to wear. For sleep apnea sufferers with exceptionally severe cases, the sleep specialist may recommend surgery to resolve the problem.

If you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor or dentist. In most cases, this condition can be effectively treated with non-invasive treatments. Many patients report that the result of effective treatment improves not only the quality of their sleep, but the quality of their lives overall.

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