When Sleeping Becomes Impossible: Surgery for Sleep Apnea


There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. We all want it. We all need it. When we sleep, our bodies are performing maintenance that keeps us healthy and happy. So what happens when you or your sleeping partner snores, chokes, and even stops breathing at night? No one gets a good night’s sleep. Chances are the snorer in your bed suffers from a chronic disease known as sleep apnea. Here are six common questions I hear from patients looking to solve their sleeping problems:

1. What is sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway is closed off or restricted while sleeping, which prevents oxygen from getting into lungs and causes unrestful sleep. Sleep apnea can range from mild to severe, causing decreased amounts of oxygen in the blood, excessive daytime sleepiness, and an increased risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure, and stroke.

2. What symptoms may suggest that it's sleep apnea?

Daytime sleepiness is biggest complaint from patients. From the spouse or partner, it's the snoring they hear that is coupled with frequent interruption of gasping for air.

3. How dangerous is sleep apnea?

It's a chronic disease that leads into serious health complications. Heart disease, high blood pressure, risk of causing a car accident because of daytime sleepiness, and even depression from lack of good sleep.

4. Why is surgery for sleep apnea a good solution?

Most patients using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (Bi-pap) breathing machines to open up their airways simply don’t enjoy wearing a mask to bed and therefore are likely to become noncompliant. Surgery is an option that can improve the upper airway anatomy and solve the breathing problem. At the same time, patients can expect to enhance their facial aesthetic, as the surgical procedure involves advancing the jaw forward, which creates tighter, more volumized skin. It’s almost like performing the opposite of a facelift.

5. What is surgery like?

Surgery includes general anesthesia in a hospital setting, with a two-day hospital stay. The procedure leaves no scars on the face and all the incision are performed from inside the mouth, which include recontouring inside the nose, advancement of the upper and lower jaw and sometimes the chin as well. Postoperatively the face feels numb, which can last up to several months. Diet is limited to very some foods and is advanced slowly over the initial six weeks after the surgery. In my professional opinion, the experience of improved breathing and sleeping and overall health is well worth the risk of surgery.

6. How do I convince my loved one to seek treatment?

The spouse or family member typically plays a primary role in the patient deciding to proceed with this type of surgery. If you’re concerned about your loved one’s health, it’s important to explain just how serious the consequences of untreated sleep apnea can be and stressing the improved quality of life they can have by eliminating the cardiovascular risks and improving sleep quality.

If you or your loved one suffers from sleep apnea, it's time to  talk with an expert surgeon about a definitive solution.

Dr. M
Article by
Shrewsbury Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon