My Wife’s Worried I’m Going to Die in My Sleep

Can you help put my wife’s mind at ease? She’s convinced I’m going to die in my sleep because she says I stop breathing. Obviously, I’m not or I wouldn’t be alive, but I can’t convince her. The last two nights she didn’t sleep because she kept watching me breathe and shaking me awake when she thought I’d stopped. I can’t keep going like this and neither can she. She wants me to see a dentist for sleep apnea but I think I’d know if something like that was going on.

Alan

Dear Alan,

man snoring keeping wife awake
One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is snoring

Let’s pause a second and think about the fact that our wives love us so much they’re willing to lose sleep out of fear we’re not okay. Though, their worry can drive us what my daughter calls “banana balls”, the intent is something to be grateful for.

As to whether or not you can stop breathing in your sleep without realizing it, you actually can. In fact, patients with sleep apnea can do that many times a night without knowing.

Here’s what happens. When someone lays down, especially on their backs, the muscles in the back of their throat can sometimes relax, partially blocking the airway. This often results in snoring because you end up vibrating the muscles. You may ask your wife if you sometimes snore. Though, I’m pretty sure she’d have complained about that by now so you’d know.

What you’re likely dealing with is something known as obstructive sleep apnea. This is when those muscles completely block the airway. You stop breathing, but your brain realizes that and then jolts you awake. Though, you don’t wake up all the way, which is why you don’t realize it’s happening. Instead, you wake up just enough to adjust your mouth and thereby your throat and start breathing again.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

mandibular device

Many patients have found relief from sleep apnea by using a CPAP machine while they sleep. But, they’re loud and bulky so just as many patients hate them. Instead of a CPAP, I prefer to start with using a mandibular advancement device, such as the one pictured directly above. They fit a lot like a sports mouth guard and have much better patient satisfaction.

It gently glides your lower jaw into proper position while you sleep, thereby keeping your airway unobstructed giving you a great night’s sleep. If this works for a patient, there’s no reason to try something else.

So, while you don’t feel there’s a problem there could be. It wouldn’t hurt to have a sleep study done because as you’re not likely to die in your sleep from it, sleep apnea does cause heart problems.

This blog is brought to you by Newton Dentist Dr. Steve Bader.