We all know about the importance of sleep, and we know we should be getting more of it. When we wake up exhausted, drag ourselves to work or hit that afternoon slump, we blame ourselves: “Should have gotten more sleep last night.”
Instead of “Did I get eight hours?” we should be asking ourselves, how well did I sleep?” We tolerate feeling exhausted during the day, but it’s not normal to feel tired.
When the airway collapses like this, breathing becomes compromised. This is where you get snoring, which is just the sound that’s made when air is getting forced through a partially obstructed airway.
Once the brain senses that breathing is dangerously compromised, it gets out of the deepest stage of sleep to regain control of the jaw muscles and reopen the airway, and keep you alive and breathing.
After just one night of the lack of deep sleep that the body craves, you awake in a damaged state. Cumulative damage could lead to high blood pressure, depression, mood disorders, suppression of the immune system, diabetes, cancer and weight gain.
Symptoms of untreated sleep apnea
- You feel sleepy or tired during waking hours
- You‘re anxious, irritable or stressed during the day
- You grind your teeth,
- You forget
- You are sleepy after waking up
You can ask yourself how well you’re sleeping without considering sleep apnea, which affects an estimated one in 15 Americans.
Doctors can’t detect sleep apnea during routine office visits, but a screening from your dentist may help, especially a dentist trained in sleep related breathing disorders.
Recent studies have shown that teeth grinding is a major indicator for obstructive sleep apnea. The simple dental health screening that can improve the quality of your sleep begins with asking your dentist, “Do I grind my teeth?”
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. The key word is “obstructive”, the thing “obstructing” the airway being the jaw, which falls back as the brain approach the deepest stages of sleep, and the muscles of the airway fully relax.
Snoring – note that not everyone who has sleep apnea snores, and not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
I might have sleep apnea. What should I do?
See your dentist. Get screened at your next dental checkup for teeth grinding. Your dentist can tell you definitively if you grind your teeth at night or not.
Also, see a medical sleep specialist. These specialists are the only ones who can officially diagnose sleep apnea.
Many of us tolerate this anxiety and exhaustion every day of our lives and never get the chance to repair our bodies with the deepest stages of sleep. Asking your dentist if you grind your teeth will hopefully make the sleep apnea diagnosis a little less daunting for the millions of people who suffer from it.