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Sleep Health

Best Treatments for Severe Sleep Disorders

Sleep is one of our most ordinary but important activities. If we don’t do it “right,” we can suffer. Snoring, the partial blockage of your airway, has been linked to some serious health issues, including heart disease, diabetes and weight. And the more serious sleep apnea – a condition in which your airway can be completely blocked anywhere from five to 50 times an hour – can be life-threatening.

And in both cases, you’ll probably be plagued by dangerous drowsiness the next day, affecting everything from driving to your job.

“Your health is impacted in a big way,” says Dr. Jonathan Greenburg, DDS, a snoring and sleep apnea specialist who runs the Snore No More clinics in the Los Angeles area.

Greenburg cites a University of Chicago study that restricted the sleep of healthy young volunteers to four hours per night for six nights. By the end the subjects were in a pre-diabetic state because their bodies’ ability to regulate sugar in the blood had been affected; and they were hungry, even though they were eating plenty, due to a drop in leptin levels, a hormone that tells your brain when you are full.

There are some simple solutions to try in mild cases of snoring – like changing your sleep position so you don’t sleep on your back (a position that’s likely to encourage snoring). You might also try avoiding alcohol several hours before you go to sleep, since alcohol weakens the muscles needed to avoid snoring. There are some snoring and sleep apnea factors, though, that we can’t control – like getting older. As we age, our throat muscles become weaker, and that means we become less able to control how far our airway can open.

Greenburg doesn’t advocate nasal strips or sprays because they “don’t get to the root of the problem. We must keep the tongue from falling back [and blocking the airway].”

A device known as a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) treats sleep apnea by blowing air pressure to the back of the throat to keep the airway open via a mask, a tube and a motor that blows air into the tube. Although it’s effective, the CPAP is sometimes perceived as noisy, especially for a patient’s partner.

Greenburg has developed another treatment that eliminates that problem. The ZYPPAH uses a different method: a mouth guard-like device that pushes the jaw forward and a light elastic strap to hold the tongue in place so it can’t block the airway. There are two versions of the device: one that can be used to treat snoring and another for sleep apnea.

To determine what kind of treatment their patients need, physicians often begin with a sleep study that involves an overnight stay at a sleep center. There, the patient’s sleep patterns are monitored and evaluated. If, like many people, you find that too time-consuming and awkward, Greenburg suggests a virtual sleep study. “You can do a sleep test at home that is as accurate as ones done at a center,” he said. “It’s like putting on a headband. You wear it for three nights…and we get a report and refer you to a local dentist or physician.” (For more information, click here.)

While even that might seem like trouble to some patients, don’t let it stop you. It is more than worth the effort to solve sleep problems, which affect so many areas of health and even relationships.

Judy Kirkwood writes articles for print and web publications – national, regional, and local; is a contributing writer to Simply the Best and Boca Raton Observer magazines in South Florida; and plays on the beach and in the pool year-round. Visit her on Facebook @JudysFlorida and please visit www.JudysFlorida.com