Sleep – As Critical to Life as Breath

Categories: Sleep Apnea, Snoring

“Sleep is a vital phenomenon, like food and water.”

~Joyce Walsleben, A Woman’s Guide to Sleep, 2000

Starting every day with a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our overall wellbeing, along with a healthy diet and exercise. In turn, nothing increases the aging process more than sleep deprivation or decreases it more than restful sleep, and it is estimated that up to 70% of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived.

In the words of Sleep Physician, Dr. Frank Lipman, “We simply weren’t built to just go, go, go. We were built to go, go, go and then rest, rest, rest.” Even when we do get enough sleep, quality is seriously lacking for most of us, particularly as we age. We tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep, and sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea, (when one stops breathing while sleeping), significantly increase with age.

Here are the answers to some of the more common sleep disorder questions my cosmetic dentistry patients ask me…

How Common Are Snoring And Sleep Apnea?

Over the age of 40, 60% of men have sleep apnea, and 40% of women have sleep apnea. However, according to a 2010 article in the scientific journal, Sleep Breath, once menopause begins, the prevalence and severity of sleep apnea in women rivals that in men. Alarmingly, 85% of those with sleep apnea are undiagnosed, according to research published by Simmons, May 2010. And of those diagnosed, over 50% are not being treated for their life-threatening disorder.

What Causes Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Snoring and sleep apnea are most commonly caused by the tongue falling back in the throat, causing vibration while partially or fully blocking the exchange of air in and out of the nose and mouth. When we sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat become softer and when relaxed, the tongue closes off the airway. Air cannot flow freely between the mouth, nose and lungs. In essence we are suffocating on and off through the night.

Could My Health Be At Risk?

Sleep apnea is linked to many serious and often life-threatening degenerative disorder, and accidents. They include: heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity and cancers. Sleep apnea also contributes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, depression, mood swings, irritability, erectile dysfunction, low libido, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Further, according to Gale Skousen, MD, if you have sleep apnea, you are:

  •  7 x more likely to have a motor vehicle accident
  •  4 x as likely to have a heart attack
  •  2-3 x more likely to have a stroke
  •  2 x more likely to have diabetes
  •  2 x as likely to die in your sleep

What Can I Do To Improve The Quality And Length Of My Sleep?

There are some lifestyle changes that you can implement to help you restore healthful sleep habits. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and creating a restful environment are basics, and with experience in the field, I can recommend many other simple and affordable strategies to improve the amount and quality of your rest. In addition, I have found that wearing a small comfortable oral appliances, worn at night, has been a very effective solution for many of my patients who are snorers and sleep disorder sufferers. (Getting treatment for snoring always seems to improve the intimacy in a marriage too!)


Can I Do A Self-Check For My Sleep Apnea Risk?

Go ahead – if you’re not sure, go straight to the mirror and open wide! Look straight to the back of your throat. What do you see? Do you see anything beyond your tongue and the roof of your mouth? Or can you see your uvula – the little piece that hangs down in the back of your throat? Can you see any part of your throat? Your tonsils? Are they enlarged? Does your tongue sit above the tops of your bottom teeth when you are open and relaxed? When you stick your tongue out, can you see scalloping (indentations) on the borders of your tongue?

Depending upon your answer to these questions, you might be at risk for sleep apnea, particularly if you snore, are overweight and/or, over 50.

For more information, call the office for a complimentary screening for snoring and/or sleep apnea. Visit our website: to learn more and to receive our free, extensive report on sleep hygiene.

-Dr. Lisa Marie Samaha, cosmetic and restorative dentistry for the Newport News area