It’s estimated that 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, and that 80 percent of moderate to severe cases are undiagnosed.
Also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), the condition affects between 5 and 20 percent of adults and 10 to 20 percent of children. While many are familiar with some side effects –– loud snoring, disturbed sleep and daytime sleepiness –– other related issues are talked about less, but can be quite severe.
“The disruption of nasal breathing can affect digestion, brain function, mood, attention, growth, heart health, head pain, metabolism and much more,” said Dr. Edmund Lipskis, director of the Centre For Integrative Orthodontics and co-author with his wife, Dr. Lynn Lipskis, of Breathe, Sleep, Live, Smile: Integrative Treatments for TMJ/TMD, Sleep Apnea, Orthodontics. “But sleep apnea in children can be treated at a young age. The symptoms include irritability, lack of concentration, poor school performance, pseudo ADHD, and nighttime bed wetting.”
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a blocked airway prevents the body from getting the oxygen it needs. Breathing can stop for several seconds numerous times during the night.
“This causes the brain to wake up so the sleeper can breathe,” Dr. Lipskis said. “People with OSA usually don’t remember every instance of waking up, but the result is fragmented sleep.”
Dr. Lynn Lipskis added that proper diagnosis, combined with advanced technology, can lead to successful treatment. She says there are more than 100 FDA-approved appliances for treating sleep apnea and proper selection is key to addressing the individual’s special needs.
“For adults, that can mean therapy using an oral appliance,” she said. “For children, it can mean orthopedic orthodontics for airway development and correction.”
The Lipskis team points out four of the less-discussed but serious side effects of sleep apnea:
Depression. Depression is linked with OSA and works both ways. “That is, people who are depressed are more likely to develop OSA, and people with OSA are more likely to develop depression,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis said. “One study found that slightly less than half of people with OSA showed depressive symptoms. This is not so surprising, considering that restful sleep is so important for physical and mental health.”
Chronic pain. As with depression, chronic pain may be a cause of, or may be caused by, OSA. A study found that more than half the people with OSA had chronic widespread pain and that the risk was higher in women than in men.
Hormone disruption. Sleep is a critical time for the body to regulate hormones. “An important one to note is the growth hormone HGH, which is produced during Stage 3 sleep,” Lipskis said. “It helps with cell reproduction, cell regeneration, and metabolism. If Stage III sleep is cut short, or never reached, HGH can’t perform its job. So rather than repairing itself during sleep, the body continues to break down.”
Nocturia. This is the frequent need to urinate at night. “People with OSA are more likely to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom,” Dr. Edmund Lipskis said. “That’s because it affects the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which prevents fluid from filling the bladder and prevents the need to urinate during the night. When ADH can’t do what it’s supposed to, the bladder fills and the urge to urinate appears. This is yet another way that OSA disturbs proper bodily functions and compounds disordered sleep.”
“If you suffer from OSA or suspect you do, have a sleep study done, which includes a diagnosis by a medical physician,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis said. “This is the only way to correctly diagnose OSA or other sleep disorders. OSA should be treated as a serious medical condition because the consequences go far beyond daytime fatigue.”