Disordered Breathing and Migraines: Here’s What You Need to Know

September 4, 2021

Sleep-disordered breathing is extremely dangerous, yet many individuals fail to take it seriously. Besides affecting your ability to obtain a deep and restful sleep, sufferers also face an increased risk of hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, migraines, and more. Its severity cannot be understated, and its prevalence is snowballing. A recent study shows that one in 15 adults in America suffers from sleep apnea. Of these, about 80 percent have no idea they have it.

There are a couple of reasons why this deadly disease is flying under the radar. Firstly, many patients are unaware they have it simply because they are asleep when most symptoms present themselves. Secondly, few healthcare professionals are qualified to recognize and diagnose sleep-disordered breathing. This means that it may go undetected—and undiagnosed—for years.

Thankfully, dentists are stepping in to serve as the front line for screening and detection. They are the perfect solution to our gap in diagnosis as several signs of sleep apnea manifest themselves in the structure of an individual’s mouth and throat. Additionally, dentists often receive an education in oral anatomy that is much more extensive than other physicians’ training in this subject area, which means they are well equipped to understand and associate expressed daytime symptoms.

Suffering from migraines? Here’s what you need to know about sleep-disordered breathing and why it may be the underlying cause.

Why Does Sleep Apnea Cause Headaches?

Headaches and migraines caused by sleep apnea typically present themselves in the morning. When we stop breathing, oxygen levels in our brain temporarily decrease. In contrast, the carbon monoxide levels increase, triggering the dilation of blood vessels and a negative response from the body. This can lead to hypertension, daytime fatigue, and chronic headaches or migraines. As the day progresses, our oxygen levels increase as we are more aware of our breathing habits, and symptoms of headache and migraine typically improve.

While sleep disorders increase the risk of chronic headaches, individuals who suffer from chronic migraines are also at an increased risk of sleep apnea. According to the American Migraine Foundation, people living with migraines are between two and eight times more likely to experience sleep disorders than the general public. Those living with chronic migraines—which includes experiencing a headache 15 or more days per month—report having almost twice the rates of insomnia as those with less-frequent headaches. This correlation is no coincidence, and the best course of action is to talk with your doctor about your symptoms. They can discuss the many solutions available to you.

How Do I Diagnose and Treat Sleep Apnea?

“Obstructive sleep apnea is destroying the health of millions of Americans, and the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades,” says American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. “The effective treatment of sleep apnea is one of the keys to success as our nation attempts to reduce health care spending and improve chronic disease management.”

Thanks to increased awareness around sleep-disordered breathing and associated comorbidities, there are more sleep studies and technological advancements than ever before. One of the most effective treatment options is oral appliance therapy. This includes a small, custom-fit device similar to a mouthguard or retainer that gently pushes the mandible forward to eliminate the risk of a blocked airway.

Another option includes using a CPAP appliance, a machine that delivers positive air pressure via a mask while you sleep. While there may be a bit of a learning curve associated with this device, most individuals find that they become accustomed to it rather quickly.

Finally, some companies, such as Vivos Therapeutics, Inc., are breaking barriers in healthcare technology. Their advanced method uses The Vivos System, a multidisciplinary treatment protocol that uses the mRNA appliance®, which has 510(k) clearance from the FDA as a Class II medical device for snoring mild-to-moderate OSA and SDB.

Migraines, especially in the morning, could be caused by sleep-disordered breathing. If you or someone you know is experiencing headaches and other symptoms, don’t suffer in silence. Talk with your dentist about sleep-disordered breathing. Together, you can find a solution.