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Noisy at night?

When a snore could mean something more.

Article Author: Beth Stambaugh

Article Date:

woman with hands over her ears with husband sleeping

A good night’s sleep can make all the difference in your day, your mindset and your overall health. But if you snore, it’s unlikely you – or the person in bed next to you – are getting the restorative rest you need.

While some people snore occasionally due to allergies, a cold or sinus problems, others are chronic offenders. The rattling, freight train-type of snorers who make you want to move to another room.

Many people with loud and constant snoring have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where the muscles of the throat relax during sleep and block the airway. About 17 million people in the United States have OSA, which causes a person to periodically stop breathing when sleeping. Apnea is the Greek word for "without breath."

“When the airway is collapsed, it causes you to startle and wake up. This sometimes happens as many as 100 or more times a night,” said Peter Nassar, MD, a sleep medicine specialist for Baptist Heart Specialists and medical director of the Jacksonville Sleep Center.

Serious or simply annoying?

Symptoms of OSA include loud snoring, apneas (waking) during sleep and exhaustion. Some people experience headaches in the morning and problems with memory and concentration.

More than just these annoying symptoms, when left untreated, OSA can have serious health consequences.

“People with untreated sleep apnea are more prone to anxiety and depression and miss work twice as often as those without it,” Dr. Nassar said.

Even worse, OSA can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, high blood pressure, heart failure or stroke. “Research shows that untreated sleep apnea may raise your chance of dying from heart disease by up to five times,” Dr. Nassar said. It has also been linked to type 2 diabetes.

Surgery can be more complicated for patients with OSA. “Patients with sleep apnea are more sensitive to sedation medications and general anesthesia,” said Matthew Morgan, MD, an anesthesiologist at Baptist Health.

“Although we screen for indicators of OSA prior to surgery, it’s important to let your doctor know if you have or suspect you have the condition so medications can be adjusted,” Dr. Morgan said. “Patients with sleep apnea may need additional monitoring right after surgery to be sure breathing and vital signs have returned to normal.”

Common culprits

The top cause of OSA is being overweight. In fact, 63% of men who are obese have the disorder.

“The extra weight places pressure on the neck, which compresses the airway and results in sleep apnea,” said Dr. Nassar. The condition is more common in men because they tend to carry more weight in their upper bodies.

Having enlarged tonsils, an enlarged base of the tongue, a deviated septum, or a small, recessed jaw can also cause OSA. Enlarged tonsils in children often cause sleep apnea; however, 90% of kids who have them removed no longer have OSA.

Moderate or heavy drinking can cause episodes of OSA, even in people who don’t typically have the condition.

Treat it to beat it

The first step for treatment is to let your primary care doctor know or to make an appointment with a sleep medicine specialist. A sleep study, which records brain activity, oxygen levels and how often you awaken, can determine if you have OSA.

Sometimes, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eliminating alcohol, and avoiding medications that cause muscle relaxation can help.

The most popular treatment for OSA is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. The device provides airflow through a face mask to prevent the back of the throat from collapsing during sleep. Other treatment options include custom-made mouthpieces or surgery to remove the tonsils and sometimes part of the soft palate.

For patients with severe to moderate sleep apnea who cannot tolerate using a CPAP, a device called Inspire may be an option. The device, which is smaller than the palm of your hand, uses a gentle pulse to stimulate the airway and keep it open. It is implanted below the collarbone during a same-day outpatient procedure.

“Patients who have their OSA treated say it’s like having a new lease on life,” Dr. Nassar said. “Their quality of life is much better, and their significant other doesn’t have to sleep in a separate room anymore.”

Sleep Centers at Baptist Health offer extensive experience in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. For an appointment with Peter Nassar, MD, call 904.854.6899. For more information about Inspire, call 904.441.5087.

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