Headaches may occur due to many different reasons. However, if you have a chronic headache every morning, it is important to find the cause behind this issue. One condition which generally goes unnoticed is sleep apnea and in this condition there is an interdependent relationship between sleep and headaches.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition which needs medical intervention as it can cause a partial or complete block in your airways, reducing the flow of oxygen to your brain. This not just puts you at a risk for headaches, but it can even be an underlying silent killer in patients with serious complications like elevated blood pressure, cardiac disease and stroke.
Although obstructive sleep apnea is common, many individuals do not know that they are suffering from this condition. If your bed partner complains that you are snoring loudly and you find yourself waking up abruptly while asleep or perhaps jerking or moving uncharacteristically while sleeping, then it is not normal. It is important to consult a sleep apnea specialist at an ENT Clinic at the earliest to understand your root condition. The sleep specialist will put you through a series of sleep study tests to evaluate your condition and identify the cause behind your sleeping disorder.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you feel drained and tired upon waking up in the morning even after a full night’s sleep, then it is possible that you have this condition.
Types of sleep related headaches
Obstructive sleep apnea has a high association with sleep related headaches and the types of headaches it can cause include:
- Cluster headaches
- Hypnic headaches
- Headaches due to obstructive sleep apnea
How do you know if you have sleep apnea?
Some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for is loud snoring during sleep and abrupt waking with shortness of breath. In addition, if you are gasping or choking or having constant morning headaches together with a dry mouth, then it is possible that you have sleep apnea. In addition, individuals who have sleep apnea also have insomnia and excessive sleepiness during the day time. Individuals feel irritable with regular mood swings and have memory problems. Although much less common, children may also present with sleep apnea. These children might have symptoms which are similar to ADHD and show difficulty while learning and have a short attention span. Parents should further look out for mouth-breathing, snoring, lethargy during day-time and bedwetting. Rarely, toddlers may also present with sleep apnea and parents should look out for pauses in breathing, difficulty in breathing, restlessness and coughing in toddlers.
How do doctors confirm your sleep apnea status?
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, you should make an appointment with an experienced ENT physician. It will be useful to take your partner along as the doctor would like to have details of your snoring frequency and if there are periods of interrupted sleep. Your doctor will take a detailed medical history to confirm the condition and will likely initiate a sleep study or polysomnogram. This test helps in monitoring the brain waves, breathing pattern as well as blood oxygen levels and eye movement.
Do I need prior preparation for a sleep study test?
It is advised to go about your usual evening routine prior to going into the sleep study. This is to ensure accurate results. The sleep study team advises you to bring comfortable night clothing, a favourite pillow or blanket and any items which you generally need during sleep.
Before arriving for the sleep study, try to avoid any naps during the day so that you can sleep soundly at night. Caffeine and other stimulants should be avoided. Also, have an evening meal prior to the study.The staff should be informed well in advance if you have any special needs and requirements.
During your sleep test, be prepared to have a lot of monitoring equipment attached to you and be patient and follow the directions provided by the technician. The sleep specialist will interpret the data generated and your results should be available in a few days.
How is sleep apnea measured?
This condition can vary from being mild to severe. Sleep apnea is measured based on a measurement system called apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). This AHI counts the number of breathing pauses which you experience per hour while you are sleeping.
What if you test positive for sleep apnea?
The ENT physician will take steps to determine what is the most suitable treatment option for you. Treating sleep apnea will help to reduce headaches. Generally, most patients who are suffering from sleep apnea are given mask and device therapy. Mild conditions can benefit from a custom-made oral appliance. Another suggestion might be to engage in physical activity to reduce extra weight.
Providing Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Relief is generally provided through oral appliances which could help individuals to sleep better. Morning headaches caused by obstructive sleep apnea responds well to oral appliance therapy. Oral appliance therapy helps to improve any pain experienced due to headaches and it can reduce insomnia. Patients need to also have a proper sleep schedule.
How do oral appliance therapy work?
Individuals who have mild to moderate sleep apnea generally use dental appliances and oral mandibular advancement devices to prevent the tongue from rolling back into the throat and blocking it. These devices keep the airways open while sleeping. However, some risks associated with these oral appliances include bite changes, jawline pain, a dry mouth and excessive drooling. These oral appliances help improve moodiness and alertness during daytime and reduces or eliminates snoring. It works without electricity and is a great alternative for people who aren’t able to tolerate a CPAP machine.
If you are visiting or residing in Singapore, The ENT Clinic can help in effectively diagnosing and treating your sleep apnea and put an end to your worrisome morning headaches and lethargy during the day.