According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea. The condition occurs when your airway becomes narrow during sleep and the brain senses the lack of oxygen and wakes you up.
Sleep apnea causes fragmented sleep, deprives your body of needed rest and can contribute to health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
“Though you are sleeping eight hours, if the quality of those hours is not good, it is not doing any good for you,” said MU Health Care neurologist Pradeep Bollu, MD, the associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center.
MU Health Care offers a variety of treatment options for sleep apnea, including the new implantable therapy.
A common first-line treatment is a “continuous positive airway pressure” or CPAP machine, which keeps your airway open at night by applying continuous air pressure through a mask interface. The treatment is effective, but some users and bedmates find the mask and accompanying noise from the machine problematic.
If you have mild or moderate sleep apnea but can’t tolerate a CPAP device, a mouth device is another option. The most common is a mandibular advancement device or MAD, which looks like a mouth guard. It keeps the lower jaw pulled slightly forward, which helps to keep the airway open. A less common option is a tongue retaining device that serves as a splint that holds the tongue in place to keep the airway from closing.
For those who suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea and can’t tolerate a CPAP device, there is a new surgical option called Inspire Therapy. A battery-powered device is implanted under the skin in the chest. It is connected to the nerve controlling the tongue muscle, and it sends a signal to that muscle when you breathe in, pushing the tongue forward and keeping the airway clear. It is turned on before bedtime via remote control and turned off after you wake up.
“While this therapy is relatively new, it has been studied since 2010. A big STAR clinical trial showed its efficacy and safety profile. We are excited to now offer this treatment option at MU Health Care,” said Bollu.
Good candidates for Inspire Therapy include those who are not extremely obese and don’t have other underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include low energy throughout day, sudden gasping for air during sleep and loud snoring. To determine whether you have sleep apnea, the most reliable test is a study conducted at MU Health Care’s Sleep Disorders Center. During your stay, you will have a comfortable, private room where you can relax while a sleep technician monitors your brain activity, eye movement, breathing, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs.
There is also a portable home testing kit that can diagnose sleep apnea.
“The equipment is shipped to the patient, the patient can put on the equipment by themselves, sleep in their own bed, then send the equipment back to the lab and the data will be analyzed at that point,” Bollu said.
Bollu says if you suspect you have sleep apnea, mention it to your primary care doctor. Ignoring the symptoms could hurt your long-term health.
“You spend about one-third of your life in sleep,” he said. “That automatically is telling you that adequate sleep is so important for your wellness. So if your sleep is troubled by sleep apnea every night, you are not getting the quality of sleep you need and exposing yourself to a high risk of other health problems.”