I can’t take it anymore! Sleep breathing disorders including sleep apnea and heavy snoring can have devastating health consequences, including decreased life expectancy, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, decreased cognitive function, etc, but what often goes unrecognized is the health effect it has on the partner in the relationship.
Sleep fragmentation is the term used to describe the disruption of normal sleep patterns. Sleep can be disturbed by movement, light, sound, pain and breathing disturbance, among other things, and the resultant poor quality sleep results in excessive fatigue or daytime sleepiness, decreased cognitive function, chronic pain, greater risk for automobile accidents, decreased work productivity, headache, depression and increased sympathetic nerve tone which may manifest as high blood pressure. Patients with unmanaged sleep apnea often suffer from these symptoms. What should not come as a surprise when we think about it is that the bed partner can suffer these same symptoms when their sleep is disrupted on a regular basis.
An adult typically sleeps 6-7 hours and may need even slightly more. By age 40, sleep becomes more fragile and we become more easily awakened, or at least suffer more from changes in sleep stages called ‘arousals’ where our brains bump from deeper levels of sleep to lighter levels resulting in fragmented and non-restful sleep. It is easy to understand how a partner’s heavy snoring, restless movement or gasping and choking for breath may begin to disturb a person more readily than it might at a younger age. Even the noise of a CPAP or other breathing machine used by a person suffering sleep apnea can be a culprit. Now, both of you are suffering.
Sleep allows us a means of physical recovery, memory enhancement, biochemical and emotional regulation. It is essential for good physical and mental health. Studies have demonstrated that normal, healthy persons who are intentionally sleep deprived will develop chronic pain symptoms. At the same time, people suffering from chronic pain often times have severely disrupted sleep patterns, so you can see the vicious circle developing. Anyone who is suffering from chronic pain syndromes including migraine headache should be evaluated for a possible sleep breathing disorder or other condition which may promote sleep fragmentation and sleep disrupted by a partner who has a sleep disorder should be considered as part of a differential diagnosis. Sleep deprivation can also promote the tendency to develop depression issues and unfortunately, many antidepressant medications may interfere with normal deep, restful sleep patterns. Treating symptoms without a clear picture of the potential causes may result in overmedication and a less than effective treatment.
If you suffer from any of the classic signs and symptoms of sleep apnea including excessive fatigue, heavy snoring interrupted by periods of not breathing followed by choking or gasping for breath, high blood pressure, chronic headache, acid reflux disease, or tooth grinding, do yourself a favor and be tested for a sleep disorder; if not for yourself, then do it for your partner who may be affected more than either of you know.
I often speak with people who suspect they may have a sleep breathing problem, but do not seek treatment fearing they may be forced to use a breathing machine they have seen or heard of. Please do not let fear prevent you from having a diagnosis. Oral appliance therapy (OAT) is a convenient and effective alternative to the classic apnea therapy which uses a CPAP machine. In fact a recent study showed that OAT, when properly performed and adjusted, was as effective as the breathing machine for mild and moderate apnea. It is important to seek treatment from a dentist properly trained in dental sleep medicine and be aware that a ‘snore guard’ is not the same as apnea management. There are only a small number of dentists in the state who are credentialed in this field and actually deliver therapy which meets the standard of care set forth by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, even though many may advertise ‘apnea treatment’. Ask about academy memberships and credentials.
Give the gift of better sleep. It will likely improve your health and your quality of life; both night and day for both of you.
Dr. J.C. Goodwin has practiced general dentistry AZ since 1987 and holds Diplomate credentials from both the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines. His practice is now devoted full time to sleep apnea management using oral appliance therapy. He can be reached at SleepEffect.