Snoring, sleep apnoea and difficulty breathing at night

If you snore, struggle to breathe at night, or wake up with a sore jaw or face – you might have a sleep condition.

At Warragul Dental Care we treat the most common sleep conditions including sleep apnoea (or ‘apnea’), snoring, problems breathing while asleep and issues with jaw clenching and teeth grinding. These are all common problems that can seriously affect the quality of your, and your partner’s sleep. And snoring jokes aside, they can also signal a more serious breathing difficulty. The treatment is a ‘dental splint’, which looks and feels like a mouth guard. It’s easy to fit, comfortable to wear and completely painless.

Are snoring and sleep apnoea the same thing?

No, a lot of people think they are but there are some differences. Snoring is rated on a scale of mild (where you snore gently with no major side effects), to severe (where it’s affecting your breathing). If you’re a heavy snorer, it can be a sign you’re suffering from sleep apnoea, but not all snorers are classed as apnoeics.

More about snoring

There’s nothing worse than waking up and feeling like you haven’t slept a wink, which is exactly what can happen when you or your partner snore. Many people suffer for years before realising help is at hand. The noise you make when snoring is due to obstructed air flow while you’re breathing at night. The worse the obstruction, the worse the snore. There are 3 categories for snoring:

  1. Mild snorer. Someone who snores gently with no physical effects.
  2. Snorer with Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome. This is where the snoring is fairly loud and there is some difficulty breathing at night, to the point where it can wake you up at night. This condition can make you feel very tired and lethargic in the day.
  3. Snorer diagnosed with sleep apnoea. With sleep apnoea the snoring can be loud and consistent, punctuated with pauses in breathing and gasping for breath.

Sleep apnoea and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)

Sleep apnoea (also spelled sleep ‘apnea’) is when you pause or stop breathing while asleep, or have periods where you breathe very shallowly. This usually happens throughout the night and can last for 10 seconds, or a few minutes. If you suffer from sleep apnoea the chances are you won’t even realise it, as you’re usually not aware you’re gasping for breath while you’re asleep. It’s often a concerned partner who raises the alarm as it can sound quite scary!

There are three types of sleep apnoea:

  1. Central apnoea. This is when the sleep apnoea is caused by the brain getting confused and forgetting to control your breathing properly. Your airways stay open but the diaphragm and chest muscles stop working. As your oxygen levels fall your brain receives an alarm and wakes you up to remind you start breathing normally again. You might not snore with this type of sleep apnoea as your airways stay open.
  2. Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). This is the most common form of apnoea and is caused by your muscles relaxing too much, which blocks the airways and prevents you from breathing. It’s normal for your muscles to relax at night, but if you suffer from OSA your muscles relax to the extent that it affects, or blocks breathing, which can be very serious. The muscles of the throat and tongue relax over your airway making breathing difficult and noisy. As you try harder to breathe, your body has to work harder to push the breath out. Eventually your airway blocks and you stop breathing – until eventually you gasp for breath and semi-wake up (probably not enough to remember though).When you stop breathing there’s a lot of science going on in your body. Your oxygen drops, you blood pressure rises and your heart is pumping hard. If the OSA continues over a long time, it can cause serious conditions including high blood pressure, a stroke and heart problems, so it’s important to get your problem diagnosed and treated.  
  1. Mixed apnoea. This is a combination of the two and often starts with the central apnoa then is followed by the OSA. We treat the OSA first, which usually corrects the central apnoea. If you suffer from this you’ll probably snore at night.

Jaw clenching and teeth grinding

Do you roll into bed at night feeling ready to sleep for days…only to find you wake up the next morning feeling tired, lethargic and with an aching jaw? If that’s the case it could mean you’re unconsciously holding your teeth tight at night or grinding your teeth together – this is also known as ‘bruxism’. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can cause damage to your teeth and jaw, and strain the muscles in your jaw, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

How do I know if I've got a sleep condition?

Here are some signs to look out for that might signal you have a sleeping condition:

  • Snoring every night
  • Gasping, snorting or choking during sleep
  • Lack of energy and feeling lethargic
  • Feeling tired during the day with no energy
  • Needing a day nap
  • Poor memory or concentration
  • Headaches when you wake up
  • Dry mouth and a sore throat in the morning
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • A restless night’s sleep (obstructive sleep apnoea can cause this)
  • Uncontrolled high pressure (also can be caused by sleep apnoea)
  • Pain around your face
  • Teeth grinding or clenching

Many people aren’t aware that they grind their teeth at night or snore, so you might find it’s your partner who highlights it to you. It’s worth listening to their concerns as your symptoms can be a sign of a more serious problem.

What’s the treatment for sleep apnoea, snoring, teeth grinding and jaw clenching?

Dr Anand Makwana is specially trained in sleep dentistry and can identify the signs of a sleep disorder by having a look in your mouth and taking x-rays of your jaws, nose and airway.

He may also talk to you about your lifestyle, diet and sleep history. Dr Anand may refer you to a sleep specialist for further diagnoses if required and this might include taking a sleep test. If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnoea your Doctor might suggest Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves wearing a nasal mask while you sleep. The machine pushes pressurised air through the machine and into your nose and throat to help you breathe at night. While the CPAP is effective, there is some evidence that suggests patients don’t wear use the CPAP long enough to see a positive result. It can feel a little awkward at night and many people take it off after 3-4 hours in bed.

An alternative is having a dental splint fitted – this can be used in conjunction with the CPAP machine. Dr Anand is specially trained to assess and fit dental splints for patients with sleep conditions. A dental splint is a non-intrusive device that sits in your mouth over your upper and lower teeth while you sleep, a little bit like a mouth guard. It helps with the symptoms of snoring, sleep apnoea, teeth grinding and jaw clenching and is completely comfortable to wear. It’s tailor-made to fit your mouth and is completely safe. The device works by preventing your airways from collapsing while you sleep, which allows you to breath normally and reduce, or stop, the snoring.

Other factors: how to stop snoring and manage sleep apnoea           

While a CPAP machine and dental splint can help treat your sleeping conditions, it’s always worth bearing in mind a few tweaks to your lifestyle can help improve the problem without the aid of medical interventions. The following factors can all affect your ability to have a good night’s sleep:

  • Your diet
  • How often you exercise
  • How much alcohol you consume before going to sleep
  • Whether you take sleeping pills
  • The medications you’re taking
  • The position you sleep in – on your side is best for breathing

Breathe easy, we’re only a phone call away

If you’d like more information about treating a sleep condition, just call one of our friendly team on (03) 5623 5588 or pop into 49 Victoria Street, Warragul for a chat.