If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, you’ll be tired during the day. However, you may think you’re getting a good night’s sleep even though you’re not. You might have sleep apnea, meaning that while you’re asleep, your breathing gets shallow, or even stops altogether. When that happens, you wake up briefly from time to time to get your breathing started again, but you’re not usually awake enough for long enough to fully register that you’re doing it. This means your sleep is fragmented and poor, and you’re still tired in the morning and may not realize why.
An estimated 40 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea but more than three in four of them are undiagnosed. You may have sleep apnea if you go through the day tired regardless of how early you went to bed the night before. Another symptom is loud, heavy snoring. People with sleep apnea often also have high blood pressure, heart problems, and stroke, and often experience depression and sexual dysfunction
Sometimes sleep apnea requires surgery, but that is rare and only when the condition is otherwise intractable. Mild cases may not require any medical intervention at all. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight and quitting smoking can make a big difference all on their own, and may be enough to solve the problem. If those don’t work, the standard treatment is a type of pressurized-air mask called a continuous positive airway pressure machine. This keeps air going through your airways, keeping you breathing throughout the night.
However, CPAP doesn’t work for all patients, and some find the machines so cumbersome and uncomfortable as to themselves interfere with sleep. For these people, doctors recommend orthotic inserts to treat apnea. To build and fit an orthotic, a specialist called a neuromuscular dentist first measures your jaw. These measurements are then used to construct an insert that looks a bit like a mouth guard. Worn at night, it holds the lower jaw in a position that keeps the airway open. This reduces apnea episodes in patients with mild to moderate apnea and reduces snoring, leading to a more restful sleep.