The majority (62%) of American adults experience problems sleeping a few nights per week. It’s no surprise that there are over 41,000 car crash injuries and deaths attributed to falling asleep in one year — or that over 49 million young adults say they have trouble concentrating on things throughout the day due to a lack of sleep. Are sleep disorders common? Absolutely.
The most common sleep disorders and their symptoms make it tough for many Americans to get the rest they need to function at work and home. The most common sleep disorders have different symptoms, but the result is the same — feeling exhausted. That’s the bad news. The good news is if you learn to recognize the signs of sleep disorders and seek treatment, often there’s a solution that can give you relief from pain and discomfort — and most importantly, give you the rest that you need to function comfortably.
How to tell if you have a sleep disorder
Every sleep disorder is different. In this blog post, we’ve gathered specific information on some of the most common disorders. But in general, if you’re experiencing any combination of the following symptoms, there’s a chance you could have a sleep disorder.
Signs that you may have a sleep disorder:
- Inability to fall asleep at night — restlessness
- Daytime sleepiness
- Wake up gasping for air
- Jaw soreness
- Memory lapses
Perhaps the most common (and most annoying) sleep disorder is snoring. While many people may not consider snoring a sleep disorder, the noise is caused by vibrations of respiratory structures — those structures are in the way, creating a partially obstructed air movement. In other words, it’s a sign of irregular air flow while you sleep.
What causes snoring? It's often due to inflamed or enlarged glands, "floppy" soft tissues, a large tongue, a small or receded lower jaw and a stuffy nose. These are all physical attributes, all of which could be genetic. However, there are other environmental influences that can affect these physical traits — smoking, alcohol, medications, allergies, asthma and upper respiratory infections.
Snoring itself is pretty harmless — it isn’t directly connected to any other significant health problems — but it can drive your partner crazy. In some cases, it can turn into a more severe problem (see UARS and sleep apnea below). While snoring is common and harmless, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to live with it forever. Obviously making lifestyle changes to remove the environmental influences we mentioned could help treat your snoring problem. If that doesn’t work, or you’re looking for a more immediate solution, our dentists can also fit you for a snore guard. These guards come in all shapes and sizes — you can learn more about them on our snoring and sleep apnea appliances page.
Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS)
Some people snore their entire lives without any further health problems, but for others, snoring can turn into Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). UARS is often recognized as the mid-point between snoring and sleep apnea, although it’s rarely diagnosed. The cause of snoring is vibration from a partially obstructed air movement, but in UARS, the air passageway is (or becomes) narrow — kind of like breathing through a straw — causing a struggle to breathe.
Because the passageway is narrow in UARS, causing a struggle to breathe, blood pressure rises. In addition to high blood pressure, daytime exhaustion is common. Symptoms of UARS are often similar to that of sleep apnea, but not as severe or frequent. While the symptoms are similar to sleep apnea, there are a few key differences — it is equally as common in men and women; people with UARS are often a normal weight; and with chronic insomnia, waking frequently and having trouble sleeping is more common in people with UARS. (In sleep apnea, despite the severity of the sleep disorder, people often sleep through it rather than waking up frequently in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep.)
UARS is rarely diagnosed — because if a doctor notices you have high blood pressure, he or she will usually address the blood pressure with medicine, rather than thinking to send you for a sleep study. If you do report snoring and fatigue, alone or in combination with high blood pressure, your doctor may send you for a sleep study. However, if you do have UARS, a sleep study will reveal a breathing problem, but also show that it’s not enough to qualify as sleep apnea. At that point, rather than continuing to investigate sleep problems, other diagnoses are pursued.
If you are diagnosed with UARS, treatment is often very similar to that of sleep apnea. Dental appliances provide relief to patients with mild to moderate cases and may be used in combination with PAP (positive airway pressure) therapy. Lifestyle changes can also be helpful — like avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bed, avoiding sleeping on your back, exercising and eating healthy to avoid weight gain (which can cause sleep apnea).
Think of sleep apnea as taking snoring and UARS to the next level. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to have shallow breathing, or to stop breathing altogether when you sleep. It may seem like a disorder that you can’t miss, but the reality is that researchers believe there are about 10 million Americans that have undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea symptoms
Despite being a severe sleep disorder, it’s important to note that the symptoms of sleep apnea aren’t always recognized. Why? Because the stop in breathing is a pause that only lasts for seconds until your body begins breathing again. While this often means you never get into a deep sleep, it doesn’t necessarily mean you completely wake up. So, unless you wake up choking or gasping for air on a regular basis, the only other main symptoms are snoring — which you wouldn’t recognize by yourself — and feeling exhausted in the morning — something that could be a symptom of a variety of other things.
There are a few different types of sleep apnea — obstructive, central and mixed — the difference lies in the cause.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. It occurs when muscles in your throat fail to keep your airway open enough to breathe while you're sleeping. Your throat muscles and tongue may relax more than others, your tonsils and tongue may be disproportionately large when compared to your airway, or you may be overweight, and the extra fat tissue along the walls of your airway makes it hard to keep completely open.
What is central sleep apnea?
In central sleep apnea, the cause isn’t in the throat, but rather the brain fails to send signals to breathe at regular intervals while you sleep. While this could happen at any age, it’s more common in older adults, as aging can influence your brain’s ability to keep your throat muscles open while you sleep.
Mixed sleep apnea, the third type, is caused by a combination of throat muscles and the brain.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you should talk to your doctor right away. If sleep apnea isn’t treated, it can lead to a variety of serious problems — the lack of oxygen at night can cause high blood pressure, heart problems, liver disease, type 2 diabetes and memory loss.
The first step is often a sleep study, which means you spend a night or a few nights with a piece of technology that tracks your breathing patterns during sleep. There are some life adjustments you can make to treat it, including weight loss, avoiding sleeping on your stomach and avoiding alcohol and other sedatives.
While these changes may help, often other treatment options are necessary. One treatment option is an oral appliance that repositions your lower jaw into a forward and downward position, opening up your throat. For more information, visit our oral appliances for sleep apnea page. Other treatment options include wearing a mask that encourages air flow during sleep — known as PAP (positive airway pressure) therapy — and surgery of the upper airway.
Bruxism is a fancy name for teeth grinding. If you’ve ever wondered if sleeping orders are hereditary, in this case, it could be. In addition to possibly being caused by genetics, a high level of stress, anxiety, anger or frustration is often the cause of bruxism. Other reasons may include young age, antidepressants, tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs and other mental health and medical disorders.
If you grind your teeth at night, chances are you'll wake up with a sore jaw, earache, neck pain, headache, face pain and extra sensitive teeth. A trip to the dentist may show wear and tear on the enamel of your teeth or the inside of your cheeks, which can also be an easy way to tell if you suffer from bruxism. Over time, without treatment, significant damage to your teeth can occur. In addition to flattening the surface of your teeth, the enamel can become weak and crack or chip. You may also get complaints from your partner, who is awakened (and annoyed!) at night by the grinding noise.
The treatment for bruxism is usually a custom fit mouth guard, provided by your dentist, to wear while you sleep. This protective gear prevents grinding and should relieve your symptoms over time. If you believe you might be suffering from bruxism, we have more information available regarding the dental appliances we offer on our dental appliances page.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)
There are multiple causes of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) — but the most common is bruxism. Here’s how it works: we have two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of our head, just in front of the ears. These joints give us the ability to open and close our mouths and move our jaw from side to side or front to back. If one, or both, of them, doesn’t work correctly, you have TMD. Grinding your teeth puts pressure on the jaw, and over time, it’s easy to see how it can turn into TMD. Other causes include clenching your jaw in your sleep, arthritis, hormones, infections, autoimmune diseases and injuries.
If you have TMD, chances are you’re experiencing some level of pain or discomfort in everything from talking and eating to breathing and smiling. Over time, that pain and discomfort spread to over parts of the face, head and neck — areas where there isn’t anything wrong, the symptoms just begin to radiate.
Oral splints or mouth guards are often used to relieve jaw pain. Some of this is due to the same reason mouth guards are the best treatment option for bruxism — providing a cushion. Medications may be used to relieve pain and inflammation, after all, the inflammation is causing the pain, so if you can decrease the inflammation, theoretically the level of pain should decrease, too. Physical therapy may be prescribed to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your jaw. Finally, often as a last resort, there are a variety of surgeries that can be done to repair or replace the joints.
If you think you may be suffering from TMD, talk to your dentist or doctor about what options may be best for you. In some cases, having your dentist custom fit a mouth guard to wear could be the solution. In other cases, your dentist and doctor may need to team up to bring you the relief you’re looking for. To start, schedule an appointment with a dentist. If you live in the Manalapan, New Jersey, area, schedule an appointment with our dentists so they can give you an exam and talk to you about the symptoms you’re having.
Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey (SDNJ)
The best treatment for these sleep disorders begins with a dentist. One of the primary places symptoms of all of these sleep disorders appear are in your mouth, jaw and throat. While a dentist may not be able to solely diagnose and treat your sleep disorder, he or she will be able to recognize the signs and work with you to get the care your need. SDNJ is home to three dentists, one of which is Dr. Courey, who was recently voted one of New Jersey Monthly Magazine’s Top Dentists for the 10th time.
The best treatment for these sleep disorders begins with a dentist. One of the primary places symptoms of all of these sleep disorders appear are in your mouth, jaw and throat. While a dentist may not be able to diagnose and treat your sleep disorder solely, he or she will be able to recognize the signs and work with you to get the care your need. SDNJ is home to three dentists, one of which is Dr. Courey, who was recently voted one of New Jersey Monthly Magazine’s Top Dentists for the 10th time.
We focus on providing customized patient-centered care to everyone we see in our office (our NJ top dentist recognition is the proof!).
If you come into our office for a sleep disorder consultation, we will work with you to develop a plan to determine the root of your sleeping problems and will team up with your primary care physician, and any other specialists, to make sure you are getting all of the best treatment options available. We know that coming to the dentist office can be a nerve-racking experience for some, so we encourage you to read what our patients have to say about the care we provide to them and their families.
To schedule a consultation with one of our dentists, fill out the contact form on our website, or call us at 732-410-7101.