sleep apnea Who doesn’t look forward to a restful night’s sleep after an active day of working or recreational exercise? Sleep allows our bodies to recharge, gearing up for another 16 hours or more of life, driving, walking, working out, attending meetings or taking care of children. Those with sleep apnea, however, may not experience the deep sleep needed to rejuvenate the body. Sleep apnea (AP-ne-ah) is a common but potentially serious sleep disorder in which shallow breathing or pauses in breathing occur while sleeping.

These involuntary interruptions in breathing can last just a few seconds or extend for a frighteningly long span of minutes. When normal breathing resumes it is sometimes accompanied by a resounding snort or choking sound. The pauses in breathing can happen every few minutes in some cases, preventing deep sleep from occurring. Sleep apnea patients often present with symptoms of excessive and persistent daytime sleepiness.

“Apnea” is a Greek word that means “without breath.” There are three types of sleep apnea, obstructive, central and mixed. Each leads to a hitch in breathing, but for different reasons. Typically, the sleeper isn’t even aware of these lulls. According to, without treatment sleep apnea can lead to cardiovascular disorders like high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke; automobile accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel; memory problems, weight gain, headaches and other maladies.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. Caused by a blockage of the airway, it is often indicated by loud snoring. Other clues that sleep apnea may be occurring include obesity, the already mentioned daytime sleepiness, bouts of awakening out of breath during the night, or a dry mouth or a headache upon waking up.

No airway blockage is present in central sleep apnea, but the brain neglects to communicate to the muscles that it’s time to breathe. Aptly named, mixed apnea is a combination of obstructive and central. During any type of sleep apnea, the sleeper is partially awakened each time the brain signals him to begin breathing again. Sleep quality is severely compromised.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. More common among overweight males age 40+, sleep apnea can affect anyone of any age. Despite being so prevalent and with potentially serious consequences, most sleep apnea patients are undiagnosed and untreated. A sleep study performed in a laboratory setting or at home is the only diagnostic tool to determine if sleep apnea is present and how severe it is.

Through sleep studies, sleep apnea is rated from mild or moderate to severe.  Severity is calculated by dividing the number of apnea events by the number of hours of sleep. To be measured, pauses in breathing must last for at least 10 seconds and be accompanied by a drop in blood oxygenation. The sleep apnea score considers the number of sleep disruptions and the degree of oxygen desaturation.

The Maxillofacial Surgery Center for Excellence specializes in treating patients under age 55, not overweight and experiencing moderate to severe sleep apnea. Initial diagnostic treatment uses a custom-fit jaw-repositioning appliance. If the appliance improves the sleep apnea, the patient is a good candidate for surgical jaw advancement. Maxillamandibular advancement techniques surgically move the upper and/or lower jaws forward. The procedures are designed to open the blocked airway. Treatment options will be explored in more detail in future posts.

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picture crop 8 Ways to Shape Up Your Team’s First AidKayvon Haghighi, DDS, MD, FACS is licensed to practice both medicine and dentistry in the state of New Jersey. Dr. Haghighi’s unique combination of surgical training and experience in facial reconstruction enables him to analyze your condition from multiple points of view.