If you’re in a relationship where you or your partner snores, you already know how difficult it can be to handle. Snoring can interfere with sleep, leading to fatigue in both parties, and frustration and resentment for the silent sleeping partner. It can even push couples to sleep in separate bedrooms — which can prevent communication and ultimately cause intimacy problems.
But before you buy a set of earplugs, you should know: Snoring isn’t just a noise pollution problem. It could be a sign of a dangerous health problem, too.
Snoring is a Red Flag
Around 24% of men and 17% of women in Australia snore frequently and loudly. Of those people, 70% experience daytime impairment and other sleep-related symptoms. That’s probably because snoring is a classic hallmark symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which the airway closes, pausing breathing momentarily. When you resume breathing, a choked-sounding snore can indicate your airway reopening. This can happen repeatedly over the course of the night, sometimes even hundreds of times. Although each pause is brief, the brain still responds to each one as an emergency situation. The heart is forced to pump harder, and the body is awakened just enough to reopen the airway–you’re usually not aware of it. Being in emergency-mode over and over throughout the night can leave the brain and body exhausted, which is why sleep apnea sufferers often wake up not feeling rested.
The Risks of Sleep Apnea
Unfortunately, if you’re suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, feeling tired might be the least of your worries. There are a host of associated health problems that come hand in hand with the disorder.
That panic mode that your brain enters when you stop breathing? That results in high blood pressure that is still measurable in the body even during the day, when you’ve been breathing normally for hours. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, does long-term damage to your arteries and heart. This includes increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Sleep apnea has also been linked to vision loss, osteoporosis, decreased libido, and even mental health issues like depression. The effects on the body are far-reaching and extremely dangerous. And the longer you suffer from untreated sleep apnea, the more danger your body is in.
And that tired feeling? Even that might be a cause for worry. People with sleep apnea are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel due to their poor sleep.
How Can Your Dentist Help?
If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor will probably recommend a CPAP machine to treat it. While CPAP is very effective when used consistently and properly, many people find CPAP disruptive and inconvenient.
There is an alternative treatment that your dentist may be able to offer you: Oral appliance therapy. An oral appliance, which is similar to a mouth guard used for sports, is worn at night to hold the jaw in the proper position to prevent the closing of the airway. This treatment, unlike CPAP, is quiet, doesn’t trigger claustrophobia, and doesn’t require electricity to work. It could be an excellent solution for who suffer from mild to moderate sleep apnea and don’t think CPAP is a good fit.