THE BLOG

Sleep Apnea: Is Your Snoring Problem Benign Or Deadly?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

One thing has saved my marriage more than any other. I'm not talking about something that improved my ability to communicate with my wife, nor anything that improve the quality of our sex, nor something that benefited our financial challenges, or any of the common problems that couples today experience. I'm talking about a snoring problem that I have ... and how I have been able to virtually eliminate it.

I was an awful snorer, though I never knew it myself (this is typical). It was only after many years of my wife kicking me in bed, shaking me awake, and finally crying that she ultimately convinced me that I had a problem and that it was hurting her sleep, her health, and her life. I was further "awakened" to my problem during a camping trip with a bevy of friends when one good buddy asked if there was an alligator in my tent because it sounded like there was one stalking and devouring prey there.

Actually, snoring does not just hurt the other person in bed; it also hurts the snorer. Snoring is a symptom of sleep problem in which the person's breathing is interrupted, and this "sleep apnea" (as it is called) has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, diabetes, and sleep deprived driving accidents. People who suffer from sleep apnea also have a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack or premature death than those who do not have this problem. Indeed, sleep apnea and snoring is a serious enough problem that it should not be ignored.

The cause of the health problems from sleep apnea is that the impeding breathing leads to the body being jolted awake to resume breathing. The blocked breathing leads to the body defending itself with a rush of adrenal which shocks the cardiovascular system to awaken the sleeper. This problem can occur every couple of minutes which creates disturbed sleep and traumatized heart function. In order to feel refreshed and get the benefits from sleep, one must experience deep levels of sleep and dream sleep, both of which are not possible when one experience moderate or severe sleep apnea.

Although people do not commonly talk about snoring or sleep apnea, it is so common today that it exists in epidemic proportions. Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from it, making it as common as asthma and diabetes.

Obviously, sleep apnea has the real potential to strain the heart, both the physical heart inside me and the emotional heart that I offer to my wife. I had to do something, or my wife would kick me out of our bed ... or worse.

Treatment Choices

Some people seek surgery to treat this problem, and there is some evidence that it can be effective. However, surgery should generally not be considered the first method of treatment because of the risk of serious and long-term pain syndromes that some patients experience from these procedures. The most commonly performed surgery for people with sleep apnea include the cutting off the back of the soft palate and the uvula, though an increasing number of surgeons are now performing an even more radical (and risky) procedure of cutting free the upper and lower jaw to move them forward.

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is presently the most common treatment for sleep apnea. The CPAP device opens up the person's airway during sleep by a flow of pressurized air into the throat. I considered such treatment because it is a lot less invasive than surgery, but I wondered if there were even less invasive devices out there (and I found plenty).

There are various "oral appliances" for sleep apnea, most of which fit over the top and bottom teeth in order to thrust the jaw forward. The oral applicance that I found had the additional and important benefit of having a fitting that goes under the upper lip and that lifts it up a bit, thereby allowing improved breathing through the nose.

The OASYS device was developed by Mark Abramson, DDS, a staff physician at Stanford Medical School and at the Stanford Integrative Medicine Clinic. I had earlier heard of his work at Stanford's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic, and due to my own interest in integrative medicine treatment methods, I was pleased to find a thoughtful and heartful dentist/healer.

The OASYS device is an FDA-approved appliance. My own health insurance even paid part of its costs, as does Medicare (if I was old enough to be served by it). This device is not recommended for "severe" sleep apnea, but it certainly has been helpful to me for the past three years.

Not only do I find that I sleep better, but I also have had a more more dreams. And equally important, my wife now sleeps a lot better.

More information about the OASYS device is available at:
www.oasyssleep.com/About.htm -- Although this site provides a list of dentists who have been trained to fit this device, virtually any dentist can fit someone with the OASYS device.

Dana Ullman, MPH, is America's leading spokesperson for homeopathy and is the founder of www.homeopathic.com. He is the author of 10 books, including his bestseller, Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. His most recent book is, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy. Dana lives, practices, and writes from Berkeley, California.