Does your morning routine include extra strength Excedrin with your coffee? Do you frequently find yourself struggling to stay awake by mid-afternoon, reaching for a second or third cup of coffee? Although waking up with a headache once in awhile isn’t cause for concern, frequently waking up with a headache could be a sign of sleep apnea, a disorder that can significantly increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
In its most basic terms, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in the body’s natural breathing cycles during sleep. Each of these pauses can last between a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the severity, and these pauses can happen multiple times per night. What makes this disorder so dangerous is the ways in which it can affect the body’s blood-oxygen levels. When this occurs past a certain threshold, it can signal the body to wake momentarily to normalize breathing patterns, which can significantly disrupt sleep.
The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, which affects around 22 million adults in the United States. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes temporarily obstructed. Obstruction could be caused by the tongue, a collapse of the airway during sleep, swelling due to allergies or irritation, even mucus. Those who are overweight or obese are at risk of obstructive sleep apnea, as well as those who have family members with sleep apnea.
Headaches and Other Signs
Frequent morning headaches are a common symptom of sleep apnea. This is in response to a fluctuating blood-oxygen levels, which can initiate a widening of blood vessels causing what are known as vascular headaches. Another common symptom is snoring. If a partner has noticed you frequently snoring or making choking sounds in your sleep, it’s recommended that you get tested for sleep apnea as soon as possible. Other common symptoms include, daytime sleepiness, and frequent nighttime urination.
High blood pressure or hypertension can also be a sign of sleep apnea. When your brain wakes up your body due to low-oxygen levels, it causes a spike in blood pressure as it restricts blood vessels in order to wake the body. Because this can happen over and over during the night, this can carry over into the day, causing your blood pressure to be off for an extended period of time.
Seek Treatment: It’s Important
Sleep apnea doesn’t only cause headaches and high blood pressure. It can significantly increase your risk of stroke and even instant death. If you’ve already sought treatment for sleep apnea, and are using CPAP as treatment, your dentist can also help. While CPAP is incredibly effective at keep airways open, many find it difficult to sleep with.
Your dentist can provide an oral appliance designed to keep your airways open during sleep without the inconvenience of CPAP.