Causes of Sleep Disorders
When you have obstructive sleep apnea, your throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway and preventing air from getting to the lungs. Generally, your throat muscles keep the throat and airway open. The site of obstruction in most patients is the soft palate, extending to the region at the base of the tongue. There are no rigid structures, such as cartilage or bone, in this area to hold the airway open. During the day, muscles in the region keep the passage wide open. But as a person with OSA falls asleep, these muscles relax to a point where the airway collapses and becomes obstructed.
Causes and risk factors of obstructive sleep apnea:
- Being overweight or obese
- Large tonsils or adenoids
- Distinctive physical attributes- deviated septum, shape of head and neck, receding chin, enlarged tongue
- Nasal congestion or blockage
Throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal during sleep
In adults, the most typical individual with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome suffers from a decrease in muscle tone causing airway collapse and sleep apnea.
Excessive weight is also a cause for OSA in adults and children which results in symptoms of restlessness, exhaustion and forgetfulness.
Unlike adults, obstructive sleep apnea in children can be caused by obstructive tonsils and adenoids. This may be cured with surgery (tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy) though a full evaluation is necessary to confirm the root cause of the sleep disorder. A non-invasive treatment plan could prove more productive and provide better long-term results.
Sleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms
Common signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) include unexplained daytime sleepiness, restless sleep, and loud snoring (with periods of silence followed by gasps).
Less common symptoms of sleep apnea are:
- morning headaches
- trouble concentrating
- mood changes such as irritability, anxiety and depression
- increased heart rate and/or blood pressure
- decreased sex drive
- unexplained weight gain
- changes in urination
- frequent heartburn and heavy night sweats
Adults have been found to be at higher risk if they are a male, obese, of an increasing age, have anatomic abnormalities of the upper airway, a family history of sleep apnea, have alcohol or sedatives frequently, are a smoker or experience hypertension.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Treatment
While it is possible to use questionnaires and visual evaluation to screen for suspected obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the primary method for diagnosing OSA at present is to have the patient undergo an overnight sleep study, known as polysomnography (PSG). This study measures and records a number of different physiologic variables during sleep such as airflow, oxygen levels, brain activity and respiratory effort.
Once diagnosed, several treatment options exist for dealing with OSA:
These include lifestyle changes such as an exercise and weight-loss regiment, medical intervention such as the addition of a sleeping device or a dental orthotic which can help to create long-term, healthy sleeping patterns. Nasal CPAP (continuous positive air pressure), CPAP or surgery are options for severe sleep apnea, and dental orthopedic appliances are a successful option for mild and moderate sleep apnea.
The diagnostic polysomnographic studies (PSG) must be read by certified sleep physicians and most commonly provided in an overnight sleep lab. We are happy to provide, by request, the names of sleep physicians and sleep labs with whom we work.
Sleep Symptoms for Children
Sleep disorders in children are conditions that prevent them from getting a full night’s rest on a regular basis. There are many children who, at some time(s), experience problems sleeping. The National Institutes of Health identify more than 100 disorders of sleeping and waking. Many of these issues are normal and may not be classified as a sleep disorder but proper diagnosis is required because an undiagnosed condition of obstructive sleep apnea can not only increase in severity as the child ages, it can become life threatening. Some of the most common sleep disorders and problems are: Childhood Insomnia, Sleep Apnea in Children, Snoring in Children, Nightmares and Night Terrors, Sleepwalking and Bedwetting. Obstructive sleep apnea in children is being increasingly recognized as a cause of attention and behavior problems as well as learning and developmental problems.