December 8, 2020
You wake up and immediately notice the unpleasant pain in your head. You think, “Again?”
Does this happen to you most mornings? If so, it might be a sign of a sleep disorder. In particular, chronic headaches might be a sign that you have sleep apnea – a disorder that could lead to far worse problems if left alone.
What is sleep apnea?
If you experience frequent pauses in your breathing while you’re asleep, you very likely have sleep apnea. These pauses, or apneic events, are usually due to the airway becoming blocked by the tongue or soft tissues of the throat. Those with the condition experience apneic events anywhere from five to 50 or more times per hour in severe cases. And even more frightening is that apneas cause decreased oxygen flow to the brain and body, which trigger frequent micro-awakenings throughout the night. As a result, sufferers of sleep apnea often feel tired during the day even if they think they got a full night’s sleep.
How does sleep apnea cause headaches?
As we mentioned, the pauses in breathing due to a blocked airway mean that the body is getting less than optimal oxygen flow, causing vascular headaches. A vascular headache is a condition in which blood vessels swell and cause pain. Sleep apnea-related headaches usually don’t last very long, but they can occur frequently. In general, more severe sleep apnea will result in more painful headaches.
What are the other effects of sleep apnea?
In particular, you should consider morning headaches to be a potential symptom of sleep apnea if you also notice:
- Loud snoring or interruptions in breathing during the night
- A lack of energy during the day
- High blood pressure
- A sudden increase in weight
- Irritability, depression, or mood swings
Other serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, are also associated with sleep apnea. Understanding the risks of not treating sleep apnea will provide insight into your health, wellbeing, and the treatment plan that’s right for you.
How can you treat headaches caused by sleep apnea?
Typically, treating your sleep apnea will also stop the recurring headaches caused by the condition. In many cases, you can improve or even eliminate your symptoms with an oral appliance. When worn at night, an oral appliance can adjust your tongue and/or jaw so that the airway remains open while you’re asleep. There are a number of appliances, each designed for specific cases; for example, some are designed for patients with smaller mouths, while others can accommodate for orthodontic work.
There are also some changes you can make at home to your sleep environment and routine. For instance, sleeping on your side (instead of on your back) can prevent tissues in your mouth and throat from collapsing and blocking your airway. Some patients also benefit from using a humidifier; adding moisture to the air can sometimes encourage clearer breathing.
When left untreated, sleep apnea tends to worsen over time, and the symptoms associated with it also become more severe. There’s no reason to put up with constant headaches and exhaustion any longer than you already have; get in touch with a dental sleep expert today!
About the Author
Dr. Kent Smith is the founding practitioner and chief medical officer of Sleep Dallas, and has been helping patients overcome sleep breathing disorders for over 25 years. He’s an expert in the field of dental sleep medicine and currently helps facilitate multiple national and international seminars to help dentists combat sleep apnea. To schedule an appointment, click here or call (844) 409-4657.