Comprehensive Guide to Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Comprehensive Guide to Obstructive Sleep Apnea

By Dr. Cory Herman  

At the Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic, we take obstructive sleep apnea seriously.

Have you considered that a sleep apnea medical condition may be why you catch yourself dozing off in the afternoon? If your partner complains about your snoring and you feeling tired in the morning when you wake up, this article has answers. As a Minnesota top pain specialized clinic, we commonly see people suffering from this under-diagnosed problem. Becoming more aware of risks and by providing you some key answers, a proper sleep enhancing treatment is easier.  

Medical Guide to Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Characterized by loud and frequent snoring, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat, blocking the upper airway. This obstruction causes you to stop breathing up to hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening disease that can increase the risk for serious health problems. These problems include congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and more. The term apnea is derived from a Greek word that means “want of breath”. You can gain help – there are several excellent and effective oral appliances that treat sleep apnea.  

Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea a pulmonary disease?

It is categorized as a disease in which the upper airway collapses during sleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Other top medical facilities, like Mayo Clinic, commonly reference it as a serious sleep disorder. Chronic pain specialists reference chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are two of the frequently diagnosed pulmonary diseases. If treatment is delayed, they may end up occurring simultaneously. When this happens, the phenomenon is typically referred to as Overlap Syndrome, which magnifies the unpleasant conditions of disordered breathing.  

Does sleep deficiency increase pain levels?

Yes. Serious sleep deficiency not only increased pain level, but it also lowers the average person’s tolerance for pain. The creates the need for personalized medicine management for patients needing pain relief and sleep interacting conditions.  
“Pain can be both a cause and a consequence of sleep deficiency. This bidirectional relationship between sleep and pain has important implications for clinical management of patients, but also for chronic pain prevention.” – Dr. Haack M at NIH

Who is prone to getting sleep apnea?

Although sleep apnea can occur at any age, the risk increases as you get older. While the sleep disorder is more common in men, it can occur in women too, especially during and after menopause. Having excess body weight, a narrow airway, a recessed chin or a misaligned jaw all can increase the risk of sleep apnea.  
“Men are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea than are women. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.” – Mayo Clinic
  If you think you have sleep apnea, you’re not alone. Obstructive sleep apnea is a common problem that can affect people of any age and body type. Studies suggest that at least 25 million adults in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. Many individuals can avoid sleepless night issues by learning the surprising benefits of getting sufficient and consistent sleep.  

When are sleepless nights serious enough to seek for sleep apnea help?

Checking in with your family doctor sooner versus later is better. If he/she deems it is serious, they may refer you to a sleep apnea specialist. Causes behind consecutive sleepless nights vary from simple things like having a new baby in the house, blue light, excessive neighborhood noise, sore muscles, fear, excessive strife, financial worries, or parasites. Those are generally temporary. If an ongoing medical condition is a cause for poor sleep that’s another matter. Seek treatment if it becomes prolonged and inhibits work-life and daily routines. Left untreated, sleep apnea up the chances of triggering several diseases. An oral appliance or another type of dental sleep medicine may be the right treatment for you.  

What problems may come up if a serious lack of sleep persists?

The acronym HEARTS helps establish memory of which diseases sleep apnea may cause:

H: Heart failure risks E: High blood pressure issues A: Atrial fibrillation tendencies R: Resistant hypertension – typically. patients with four or more medications to control blood pressure T: Type 2 diabetes that may be avoidable S: Increased risk of stroke We’ve also found it may increase the risk of tendencies toward metabolic syndrome, liver problems, or complications with medications and surgery. Simply, it is best to take action and make a medical appointment before your body wears down and these risks climb upward.  

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

The main symptoms of sleep apnea vary depending upon a person’s medical condition, home environment, stress management skills, and more. Most commonly it is if you snore loudly. Or maybe someone observing you says that at times you stop breathing when sleeping. If you wake up abruptly feeling short of breath, choking or gasping, this may indicate that you have sleep apnea. It is best to let a professional diagnose you. We’ll try and answer this key question more in-depth below.  

Warning Signs You May Have Sleep ApneaSleep apnea solutions to try at home

There are some things that you can avoid if sleeplessness is rare; like Ibuprofen, sugary foods, caffeine, nicotine, and alcoholic drinks before bedtime. These specific foods and consumed intakes can interfere with sleep. Simply avoid them after the noon hour. Rather, consider asking your partner for a gentle head and neck massage as it may help you relax.  

Pay attention to the following sleep deprivation warning signs:

Listed here are several clear warning signals that you’re losing quality sleep from obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Loud, frequent snoring – Loud and frequent snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea.
  • Breathing pauses – By definition, sleep apnea involves repeated breathing pauses throughout the night. Your bed partner may hear you gasp for breath in your sleep or may wait (slightly panicked) to hear you take your next breath.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (the ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time)
  • Memory problems
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Decreased sex drive or impotence
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Off-the-norm oxygen level
  • Obesity
  • Acid reflux symptoms such as indigestion and heart burn or chest pain
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is, are you getting a good night’s sleep? If not, try recording yourself sleeping or ask your bed partner to listen while you sleep. Understand how central sleep apnea treatment is to your overall well-being. Make sleep a higher priority if you are tired all the time. Don’t cut yourself short. Schedule 8 hours of sleep each night and guard a consistent time frame. Insomnia is often a barrier in healing. This may mean lifestyle changes to deeply ingrained habits. Intermittent dozing or naps cannot replace the healing that occurs during a solid eight hours of sleep that includes a deep sleep. This gives your body a break from working hard at being active. It is when your nervous system is relatively inactive so that the body’s energies can be devoted to healing. repair occurs better when the postural muscles are relaxed and consciousness is practically suspended.  

Does Ibuprofen help you sleep better?

An NIH medical sleep study observing breathing during sleep patterns have demonstrated that sometimes aspirin and indomethacin have negative effects on sleep in humans. Murphy PJ found that aspirin and ibuprofen disrupted sleep in comparison to placebo by increasing the number of awakenings and percentage of time spent in stage wake, and by decreasing sleep efficiency. After falling asleep, Ibuprofen also hindered the beginning of deeper stages of sleep. Murphy determined a relationship to direct and indirect consequences of inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis that induces deep sleep. Specifically, the study discovered “decreases in prostaglandin D2, suppression of nighttime melatonin levels, and changes in body temperature”.  

Is it possible to die from sleep apnea?

It is most unlikely that you would actually die in your sleep from apnea. The body has marvelous reactors if senses it’s not obtaining sufficient oxygen during sleep. This promptly forces the person to wake up. When you do, you’re your breathing airways open up and natural breathing resumes. Because of the miraculous way we are made, you stand no chance of suffocating in your sleep. (Although some folks argue that the iconic Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher did.) Clinical research points to higher mortality risks from the inevitable complications in severe sleep apnea – if left untreated. “Sleep apnea disrupts circadian rhythms, imbalances body and brain chemistry, interrupts cardiac and respiratory function, elevates blood pressure, and speeds up the heart’s rate. When allowed to continue untreated it absolutely will lead to higher mortality for those who don’t treat it”, according to How often do you hear someone say, “I’m dead tired”? The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says: “Untreated, sleep apnea can be life threatening. Excessive daytime sleepiness can cause people to fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as while driving.” (2)  

Why is sleep loss associated with obesity?

Clinical research has linked obesity with problems around sleeping well. A dose-response relationship between sleep deprivation and obesity has been found. Simply, less sleep is tied to chances o increased obesity when measured by body mass index (BMI)—weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Most often studies are cross-sectional; one prospective study was a 13-year cohort research that observed approximately 500 adults. NIH reports that “By age 27, individuals with short sleep duration (less than 6 hours) were 7.5 times more likely to have a higher body mass index, after controlling for confounding factors such as family history, levels of physical activity, and demographic factors”.

This research project was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council and resulted in the 2006 book titled Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem by Bruce Altevogt and Harvey R Colten.


What is Central Sleep Apnea?

We find that Central Sleep Apnea is less commonly diagnosed. It’s a type of sleep apnea that takes place when your brain fails to properly transmit signals to your breathing muscles. The result is that you make no effort to breathe for a brief moment. Shortness of breath or have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep are common symptoms.

Key Sleep Apnea Statistics from NIH

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition with significant adverse consequences, the National Institute of Health. We learn a lot in its June 28, 2022 Obstructive Sleep Apnea Statistics article by authors Jennifer Slowik, Abdulghani Sankari, and Jacob Collen. It reports the following statistics:

  • OSA (using the definition of 5 or more events/ hour) affects almost 1 billion people globally.
  • 425 million adults aged 30-69 years having moderate to severe OSA (15 or more events/h).
  • In the United States, it has been reported that 25-30% of men and 9-17% of women meet the criteria for obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Prevalence is higher in Hispanic, Black, and Asian populations.
  • Prevalence also increases with age, and when individuals reach 50 years of age or more, there are as many women as men who develop the disorder.
  • The increasing prevalence of OSA is related to the rising rates of obesity ranging between 14% and 55%.
  • There is a genetic component as some risk factors, including obesity and upper airway soft tissue structure, are genetically inherited.

Form a New Attitude On Sleep

People who are sleep-deprived can benefit from a new outlook on sleep. It is your body’s recharge time and needs to be protected. Establish a mindset that centers on a long-term approach rather than a short-term one while adjusting to new routines. Take it one day at a time, but focus on your overall health. It takes time, personal discipline, and patience to establish new sleep habits. You are the one who will enjoy the payoffs in the long run. Consider sleep as your best friend. It doesn’t just provide recovery time for your body, it is the only time that your brain can clear waste proteins accumulated throughout the day. We can all get preoccupied with daily life and may not recognize our own detrimental sleep behaviors. Our pain clinic can help you identify them and improve your sleep patterns by establishing a healthier lifestyle. Sleep is also one of the best aids if dealing with cluster headaches.

5 Star Google Review

“We searched a long time to find a provider to make a sleep mouth guard for our daughter with Down Syndrome. Dr Herman was personable, professional and informative. He took time to explain the pros and cons and give us informed consent before proceeding with making impressions for the sleep mouth guard. Thanks for your care and compassion.” – Sleep Mouth Guard Review by King Elder


Often the first step is for you to be diagnosed by your family physician who can refer you to one of our sleep doctors to get you started. Initial visits typically include conversations about the process for diagnosis and treatment options and go over your family history. If you think you may have sleep apnea, we can help you avoid higher risk factors. Our team at Minnesota Head & Neck Pain Clinic can answer your questions about obstructive sleep apnea and lead you on your path to recovery. Our pain clinic healthcare staff wants people to be informed about how serious this condition is so they take positive action. Our life-changing effective treatment can make a difference for you.

Schedule a consultation to discuss sleep apnea by calling (763) 577-2484 or Schedule A Clinic Visit

About the Author

Cory Herman DDS, MS manages the MN Head & Neck Pain Clinic and works to coordinate both simple and complex chronic pain disorder treatments. ADDITIONAL REFERENCES: (1) (2)

Our mission is to provide high-quality, effective patient care for head and neck disorders through a multispecialty, interdisciplinary approach designed to reduce pain and improve function for all our patients.

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