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Can Smoking Cause Sleep Apnea?

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A good night of sleep is crucial to be at your best and maintain your desired level of productivity. Going to bed at night and getting a full night of sleep uninterrupted is a dream come true. It’s important to seek treatment when you’re going through sleep apnea struggles. Having a dedicated team is a good start. 

But what causes sleep apnea? And is smoking a leading cause? Let’s take a closer look at sleep apnea and some symptoms and causes.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes frequent interruptions when you’re trying to sleep due to an obstruction in breathing. When this breathing obstruction occurs, your brain will signal your body to wake up and get some air. Your breathing will progress in a constant starting and stopping cycle when you have sleep apnea. 

Even if you don’t remember waking up, this disturbance to your sleep cycle can result in severe sleep deprivation. 

Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder, and monitoring your symptoms is essential. Some common signs of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud and/or persistent snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability

The appearance of these symptoms can indicate that you’ll need to contact your doctor and arrange for a sleep study to diagnose your sleep apnea.

There are 2 main types of sleep apnea to look out for—treatment for each type differs, so a sleep study will help diagnose and confirm your treatment plan. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder. As the name gives away, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your throat becomes blocked in your sleep due to physical obstruction of the airway. 

The signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can overlap with other types, making it difficult to determine which type you have. 

Some common signs of obstructive sleep apnea include: 

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headaches
  • Mood changes
  • High blood pressure

It’s essential to diagnose and treat obstructive sleep apnea as soon as possible. These symptoms can be an indication, but your doctor will be able to prepare a comprehensive treatment plan for you. 

Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems such as: 

Your safety and comfort are vital, and treatment as soon as possible for obstructive sleep apnea is in your best interest.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Central sleep apnea is a less common form of sleep apnea that stems from an issue within your central nervous system. Central sleep apnea occurs due to your brain not sending proper signals to your muscles to control your breathing. 

Central sleep apnea differs from obstructive sleep apnea as there is no obstruction in your upper airway. Central sleep apnea can also result from other conditions such as heart failure and stroke, and it’s not as common as obstructive sleep apnea.

Some common signs of central sleep apnea include: 

  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Snoring

While snoring can indicate an obstructed airflow, it can also occur with central sleep apnea and may not be as loud as it is with obstructing sleep apnea.

While not as common, central sleep apnea is a serious condition, and you should visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

A man asleep in bed with his mouth open, snoring due to sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors & Smoking

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even children. There can be several causes and risk factors for sleep apnea, and these risk factors can differ depending on the type of sleep apnea you’re dealing with. 

Some factors that increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight 
  • A narrowed airway
  • Older age
  • Family history
  • Nasal congestion
  • Smoking

Smokers are 3 times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than people who have never smoked. Because obstructive sleep apnea occurs from a blockage in the upper airway, smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.

Many researchers have found a link between smoking and obstructive sleep apnea.

These links include:

  • Changes in sleep architecture
  • Relaxation of the upper airway muscles caused by nicotine
  • Increased awareness of waking up from sleep due to nicotine
  • Increased upper airway inflammation due to smoke inhalation

While it’s not 100% clear, researchers have found links between smoking and obstructive sleep apnea.

Getting Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed through a sleep study, so it’s essential to visit your doctor as soon as symptoms start popping up. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition, so doing your part to treat it right away can preserve your great night of sleep and quality of life. 

Book an appointment at our sleep apnea clinic Calgary today to learn more about sleep apnea and get a full diagnosis and sleep study. 

Dr. Saleema Adatia

Written by Dr. Saleema Adatia

Dr Adatia did her dental training at Tufts University in Boston MA and graduated in 2006.  Returning to her hometown of Calgary, Dr. Adatia worked as an associate for many years before starting Symmetry Dental.  

Dr. Adatia has focused her clinical practice to the dental management of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. She has completed extensive training in dental sleep therapy, including a residency at her alma mater, Tufts University, and multiple courses focused on evidence-based education and the medical aspects of sleep related breathing disorders.

Dr. Adatia is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, which focuses on training dentists on how to provide oral appliance therapy for people who suffer from sleep apnea.  She has also been involved in clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of novel technologies for the treatment of OSA.

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