A sleep disorder not only upsets the health and well-being of the sleeper but can also interfere with the slumber of others nearby.
Coping with snoring is especially difficult since the person doing it usually doesn’t hear anything, being fast asleep. Snoring also happens to be a symptom of sleep apnea. The Mayo Clinic advises:
“Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing stops repeatedly and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly, and you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep.”
The interruption of oxygen-bearing blood to the brain caused by sleep apnea can lead to very serious health problems, especially for people with cardiac conditions.
Sleeping with regular breathing improves heart health. Along with more oxygen, the sympathetic nervous system quiets down, and the sleep cycle is continuous, through all its stages. All of these contribute to strengthen the cardiovascular system, as nature intended.
There are actually three types of sleep apnea: obstructive (the most common), central, and complex – which is having both of the other two.
Obstructive sleep apnea, as its name suggests, happens when upper airway blockages disrupt regular breathing.
The traditional treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is to take your pal CPAP to bed with you – and your sleeping mate. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and it is far from a cuddly companion. The device uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open. The kicker is that you have to strap a large mask with a breathing tube to your head and hear a motor run all night long. Doesn’t look that comfortable, does it?
You may be able to kiss your CPAP good-bye, however.
A company called Inspire has developed an implant which monitors breathing during sleep. A handheld remote lets the user turn the system on before retiring and off after awakening, increase and decrease stimulation strength, and pause during the night if needed. According to the makers:
“The system delivers mild stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve which controls the movement of your tongue and other key airway muscles. By stimulating these muscles, the airway remains open during sleep.”
Another similar product for treating obstructive sleep apnea is available from ImThera. This device sends mild pulses to the hypoglossal nerve in the neck and “acts like a ‘pacemaker for the tongue’ with the objective of keeping the airway open throughout the night.”
A third such treatment is called the Pillar Procedure.
Requiring a minimally invasive office procedure, three small, woven-polyester inserts are implanted into the roof of the mouth or the soft palate. The woven inserts are less than an inch long and are implanted under local anesthesia in a doctor’s office.
After healing, the tissue around the implants stiffens the soft palate and reduces relaxation and vibration of the tissue. This, in turn, reduces snoring and alleviates milder cases of obstructive sleep apnea.
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Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, with central sleep apnea, breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep because the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing. The diaphragm is the major muscle in charge of breathing, as anyone who has taken voice lessons can attest.
A new implanted device from Respicardia called the Remede System treats central sleep apnoea by activating the phrenic nerve that sends signals to the diaphragm to stimulate breathing. Pretty nifty, eh?
The system includes thin wires that are inserted into the blood vessels in the chest near the phrenic nerve to sense and stimulate breathing, a battery pack implanted in the chest to provide power, and a portable tablet programmer. You don’t even have to turn it on:
“The system activates automatically during sleep. A physician can monitor information through the portable tablet programmer and can non-invasively change the settings if required.”
All of these implantable treatments to ensure a good night’s sleep – for everyone concerned – can make us all breathe easier.