What Is Sleep Apnea? How Can Myofunctional Therapy Address it?

Sleep is essential for our daily well-being. A good night’s rest makes us feel alert and creative, able to take on a world of challenges. Interrupt that sleep, though, and issues like headaches or fatigue start to creep in. The body simply cannot function without proper rest, and as anyone with sleep apnea knows, getting that rest is often completely out of their control.

Most people think obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a permanent condition they’ll just have to learn to live with. Surgery and uncomfortable CPAP machines may provide temporary relief, but the long-term outlook is usually pretty grim. Fortunately, it’s possible myofunctional therapy can provide a safe and effective path back to a normal night’s sleep.

What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a collection of disorders characterized by shallow breathing or even full pauses in breath during sleep. The interruptions are generally brief, lasting between 20-40 seconds, but it’s enough to disrupt sleep patterns, cause loud snoring, and create a host of health-related issues during the day.

It’s estimated as many as 6% of adults suffer from some sort of sleep apnea. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where the upper airway becomes physically constricted to impede proper breathing. This usually happens as a result of the tongue and soft tissues in the oral cavity sagging to the back of the throat.

Many OSA sufferers are unaware of their condition, as it usually only manifests during sleep. The initial symptoms such as fatigue or headache are not unique to sleep apnea, allowing the condition to go undiagnosed for months, years, or even decades.

What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Any imbalance that affects soft tissue surrounding the upper airway can cause early stage sleep apnea. It takes surprisingly little for breathing to be interrupted, especially while we’re at rest. Standard diagnostic methods often cite the following as the most common causes of obstructive sleep apnea in adults:

  • An injury to the head or neck
  • Irregularities in the facial or dental structures
  • Natural loss of muscle tone as we age
  • Obesity
  • Swelling around the upper airway

Using these causes to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea can be hit or miss. They’re pretty generic, after all, and none of them are guaranteed to cause OSA. Furthermore, sleep apnea frequently appears in patients who do not meet any of the above criteria, making the condition something of a mystery to modern eyes.

Common Symptoms and Treatments for OSA
Snoring, fatigue, and other sleep apnea symptoms can occur in healthy adults and are generally no cause for concern. If they become chronic, however, it’s time to investigate the condition more thoroughly.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can vary from person to person based on a variety of factors, including age, gender, and underlying causes. Most people experience one or more of the following symptoms, however:

  • Abrupt awakenings at night accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Daytime sleepiness, mood changes, or irritability
  • Excessively dry mouth or sore throat
  • High blood pressure
  • Loud snoring at night, usually as reported by a significant other
  • Morning headaches on a day to day basis

There is no one-size-fits-all cure for sleep apnea. The usual treatment methods include nasal decongestants, surgery, oral appliances and nightly use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. Unfortunately, none of these methods fix the underlying cause of sleep apnea, and they’re both uncomfortable and expensive, as well.

Myofunctional Approach to OSA
Myofunctional therapy views the body from a unique perspective. Instead of starting with a list of symptoms and attempting to relieve them one by one, a myofunctional therapist searches for the cause of an issue and works to eliminate it at the source.

The origins of sleep apnea can be as innocent as improper tongue positioning or a habit of breathing through the mouth, for example. Identifying these contributing factors is the first step in restoring the physiology to its balanced state.

Once the myofunctional therapist has assessed the problem, a treatment plan can be enacted. This often includes daily exercises to strengthen the soft tissues and re-pattern the muscles (including the tongue) surrounding the upper airway in order to restore correct breathing patterns that persist even while we sleep.

Tongue, Teeth, and Throat
Standard diagnostic methods often look for overt causal factors such as obesity or drug abuse. For many who suffer from OSA, however, the causes can be much subtler. We rarely think of our facial muscles, mouth, or lower jaw in relation to breathing. The truth is these structures, along with proper tongue positioning and balanced jaw alignment, have a profound impact on each breath we take.

A tongue that rests too low in the mouth, for example, encourages breathing through the mouth instead of the nose. This changes the muscle movements associated with breathing, strengthening tissues that normally remain at rest or under-utilizing muscles that should remain engaged. This enforces breathing patterns the physiology is not accustomed to, creating chronic conditions such as sleep apnea.

Myofunctional therapy works to re-pattern the muscles of the tongue and soft palate to restore correct breathing, chewing, and swallowing habits. Through daily activities and other corrective procedures, patients can train their bodies to breathe normally once again. It doesn’t matter how old they, there’s a good chance myofunctional therapy can help mild-to-moderate OSA.

Finding Wellness Again
No two diseases have the exact same cause. Every person, every physiology is completely unique. By approaching issues such as obstructive sleep apnea from a causal point of view, myofunctional therapy can reduce symptoms by repairing imbalances at their origin. It’s safe, non-invasive, and best of all, extraordinarily effective.

Prevention is one of myofunctional therapy’s most powerful tools. You don’t have to wait until you’re losing sleep to start working towards wellness. Catching small malocclusions, breathing problems, or tongue posture issues as early as childhood can prevent a lifetime of suffering.

Are the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea starting to appear in your life? Don’t give it a chance to get worse. Contact us today and we’ll build a wellness plan that keeps your physiology working the way it should!

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