Which is worse?
Not being able to fall asleep and knowing you’ll be tired the next day, or waking up and feeling exhausted despite thinking you had plenty of sleep the night before?
In my opinion, it’s the latter. This is what every day is like for the millions of people living with sleep apnea.
When it comes to sleep disorders, the condition most often mentioned to me is insomnia. People assume that their problem is an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
It may come as a shock that the disorder most often diagnosed is sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a type of sleep-disordered breathing, also known as sleep-related breathing disorder, that affects your ability to achieve proper sleep.
Those with sleep apnea have recurrent episodes where they don’t get enough oxygen into the lungs. This reduces the quality of sleep and leads to grogginess the next day.
Now, that’s a lot of yawning.
While these statistics are pretty shocking, most people with moderate to severe sleep apnea don’t even realize they have the condition. Unfortunately, many with sleep apnea will suffer for years before receiving a diagnosis.
A former colleague of mine was one such individual.
John put up with daytime sleepiness his entire life. Besides snoring, he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was causing his daily exhaustion. For all intents and purposes, John felt like he was getting enough sleep.
After years of dealing with John’s snoring, his wife finally demanded he go to the doctor. At the age of 63, John was finally evaluated by a sleep specialist and was formally diagnosed with sleep apnea.
With treatment for his sleep apnea, John’s life improved dramatically. He no longer felt exhausted during the day and his wife didn’t have to put up with his snoring.
While it’s great that John finally received helped, cases like his are not at all rare.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Unlike insomnia, sleep apnea generally doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep. Instead, sleep apnea occurs when airflow into your lungs decreases, causing frequent awakenings throughout the night. It’s not usual to wake up gasping for air.
Episodes of restricted airflow occur during sleep and can last for as long as a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
Because it happens during sleep, you may not even know it’s occurring. It’s a bit like sleep-talking, only a whole lot less entertaining for your partner.
When airflow into your lungs decreases, blood oxygen levels drop. This causes an increase in the waste product carbon dioxide. In response to this imbalance, the brain wakes you up to continue normal breathing.
This vicious cycle of waking during the night interrupts your normal sleep cycle. This, in turn, leaves you feeling exhausted the following day.
Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?
According to the Genetics Home Reference, it’s unclear whether sleep apnea is inherited. Scientific research has found that you’re 50% more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea if a direct relative (such as parents, siblings or children) have the disorder.
If you have a direct family member with sleep apnea, it’s important to monitor yourself for symptoms.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea falls into three major categories:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
- Mixed Sleep Apnea (MSA)
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common subtype of sleep apnea. OSA occurs when there’s an obstruction in the upper respiratory tract that blocks airflow to the lungs.
Obstructed airflow in OSA can occur for many reasons. This includes:
- Relaxation of the muscles in your throat
- Increased soft tissue in your throat due to obesity
- Anatomical abnormalities such as a small upper airway
Several factors unrelated to sleep apnea can also increase your likelihood of developing the disorder.
Factors that increase your risk for developing sleep apnea:
- Excess weight. Obesity increases your risk of sleep apnea. Fat deposits around your upper airway can obstruct your breathing.
- Neck circumference. People with thicker necks might have narrower airways, which restricts airflow.
- A narrowed airway. You might have inherited a narrow throat that makes it more difficult to breathe. Tonsils or adenoids also can be enlarged and block the airways.
- Being male. You’re two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea if you’re a male. Anatomical throat differences in men make them more susceptible to breathing issues.
- Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
- Family history. Sleep apnea might have a genetic component. Studies show that having family members with sleep apnea can increase your risk of developing the disorder by up to 50%.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquillizers. These substances relax the muscles in your throat, which can worsen OSA.
- Smoking. Researchers found you’re 3 times more likely to develop OSA if you smoke. Smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway leading to blockage.
- Nasal congestion. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose due to anatomical problem or allergies, you’re more likely to have OSA.
2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Unlike OSA, people with Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) don’t have a blockage in the upper respiratory tract. CSA occurs when the brain doesn’t communicate well enough with the body to breathe at a regular rhythm.
CSA can occur for several reasons including:
- Brain dysfunction. This could be due to a physical defect in the brain. An infection such as encephalitis. Previous damage caused by traumatic brain injury or stroke.
- Neurological disorders. Disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease can also contribute to CSA.
- Drugs and Alcohol. Drinking excess alcohol or taking drugs with a sedation effect and slowed breathing. These include opioids, barbiturates, and certain types of sleeping pills.
- Secondary medical conditions. These include congestive heart failure, hypothyroid disease, or kidney failure.
- A physical defect. An example is an abnormality in the shape or the chest wall
3. Mixed Sleep Apnea (MSA)
Mixed Sleep Apnea (MSA) occurs when a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnea. MSA is especially problematic because it’s more difficult to treat than OSA or CSA alone.
Some therapies used to treat OSA can actually make CSA symptoms worse. Thus, it’s essential that rigorous testing happens prior to treatment.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
If you’re having trouble sleeping or finding yourself feeling tired during the day, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea so that you can take steps to get help.
How to Tell if You Have Sleep Apnea
There are many symptoms that point towards an individual having sleep apnea.
The signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Day time sleepiness and fatigue. When sleep apnea causes you to wake many times throughout the night, you’re unable to complete a full sleep cycle. This leaves you in a chronic state of sleep deprivation.
- Restless sleep with frequent awakenings. You may find that you’re unable to stay asleep throughout the duration of the night. Waking frequently and finding it difficult to go back to sleep is common with sleep apnea.
- Waking up with a choking sensation. Waking up gasping for air and feeling like you’re suffocating is common in sleep apnea. This is due to a prolonged lack of oxygen during a sleep apnea event.
- Snoring. It’s especially common to snore when you have sleep apnea. The blockage causing restricted breathing can also produce snoring.
- Sore or dry throat. A sore throat is generally caused by irritation from snoring.
- Headache. When your oxygen is low, the brain sends signals to your blood vessels to dilate or widen. This allows faster blood flow into your brain. The dilation of blood vessels in the brain can result in a vascular headache or a sleep apnea headache.
- Mental impairments. You may have trouble concentrating, have memory issues and impaired learning, moodiness, and irritability. These are all typical cognitive symptoms of sleep loss.
- Sexual dysfunction. Not only does chronic sleep deprivation reduce your sex drive but it can also affect sex hormones.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Gender
Sleep apnea can cause different symptoms in men and women so it’s important to recognize the symptoms for your gender.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Men
Sleep apnea is 3 times more likely in men than women. Fortunately, for men symptoms are typically easier to identify.
- Snoring. Sleep apnea episodes are often more intense in men than women. This is due to anatomical differences. The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat. It includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, and the walls of the pharynx is larger in men than women. This can result in more severe snoring.
- Erectile Dysfunction (ED). Sexual problems like ED are common in up to 69% of adult men with obstructive sleep apnea. This may be due to reduced testosterone levels caused by insufficient sleep.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Women
Sleep apnea is less common and less often diagnosed in women than men. Women also experience fewer extreme symptoms than men.
The anatomy of the upper respiratory tract in females makes OSA less likely to occur. If you’re a woman or know a woman you think may have sleep apnea, take note of these common symptoms.
- Light snoring. Snoring is usually much lighter in women due to the difference in throat anatomy.
- Subtle sleep apnea episodes. Breathing problems during sleep are more subtle and may be difficult to notice.
- Less severe AHI. Women tend to have lower apnea/hypopnea indexes (AHI). Apnea events are usually shorter in duration and frequency than men.
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea
There are many dangerous health conditions linked to the disorder. Below is a list of common long term effects of sleep apnea:
Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure
Low blood oxygen from sleep apnea results in the release of a stress hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline tells your body to increase blood pressure to help blood better circulate around the body.
Chronic spikes in your adrenaline can lead to long term high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension can cause many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Disease
Hypertension caused by sleep apnea can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure strains the arteries that provide oxygenated blood to your heart. This leads to your arteries becoming stiff and narrow, which allows for a buildup of plaque.
When plaque narrows your arteries, blood clots can form and reduce blood flow to the heart muscle. Starving your heart muscle of oxygen leads to damage resulting in heart disease.
Yep, plaque has more enemies than just your teeth and gums.
Sleep Apnea and Acid Reflux Disease
Sleep Apnea and Mental Health
Most mental health disorders coexist with sleep problems.
Disturbed sleep is often listed as a symptom of various conditions such as depression and anxiety.
This is because sleep deprivation places stress on your brain which exasperates pre-existing neurological conditions. Sleep apnea can also contribute to the development of new mental health issues.
Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
A scientific study discovered that the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes increases by 63% when a person has sleep apnea. The reason that these two diseases often coexist is that many of the risk factors for diabetes, such as obesity, are also risks for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can also worsen diabetes symptoms by affecting the body’s ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Can You Die from Sleep Apnea?
Clinical research has shown that the risk of early death is higher if you have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea disrupts your circadian rhythm, imbalances your body and brain chemistry, interrupts your cardiac and respiratory function, elevates your blood pressure, and speeds up your heart rate.
These factors left untreated increase your likelihood of early death.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Nobody likes going to the doctor so having your sleep apnea evaluated may seem like a daunting task.
As someone who has personally gone through two in-clinic sleep studies, I can attest that it can be an inconvenient process but it’s nothing compared to years of suffering from sleep issues.
It’s important to remember that getting a diagnosis for your sleep apnea is the first step to living a happier and healthier life.
Getting a Referral to a Sleep Clinic
Diagnosis of sleep apnea starts with an evaluation by your family physician. If your doctor suspects you have sleep apnea, they’ll refer you to see a specialist doctor that is trained in sleep medicine.
Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea symptoms, your sleep specialist might recommend that you undergo a sleep study. Your sleep study might take place at a specialized sleep monitoring facility or you may be eligible for testing at home.
During your study, your sleep will be monitored overnight by a trained technician. During sleep, specialized equipment will record your brain activity, breathing, heart rate, and movement.
Sleep Apnea Sleep Study
When the purpose of your sleep study is to determine if you have sleep apnea, the staff will specifically watch for signs of poor breathing. If there’s an indication of sleep apnea during the first half of the night, the staff may try treatment with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine.
The CPAP mask is applied over your face and regulates airflow and pressure so that airways stay open. The technician can adjust the pressure to assess the best settings for your personal needs.
While the CPAP device may take some time to get used to it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. You should alert the staff to any discomfort you’re feeling so they can make adjustments.
Home Sleep Apnea Sleep Study
While in-clinic sleep studies can be an annoying undertaking, some lucky patients are eligible to have their sleep apnea test at home.
There are various reasons you might opt for an in-home sleep study. For one, compared to in-clinic studies, home studies are less expensive. They’re also more convenient.
Sleeping in your own bed also creates a more familiar and comfortable environment. This may produce more accurate results.
Luckily, in-home sleep studies are primarily used for the diagnosis of moderate to severe OSA. They’re also used to test the effectiveness of OSA treatments, such as oral appliances.
During an in-home sleep apnea screen, the patient usually conducts their own study. Once determined by a sleep physician that an in-home test is suitable, you learn how to use the sleep monitoring equipment. For the most accurate results, it may be necessary to conduct the study over several nights.
Some of the equipment is similar to the measurement devices used in-clinic. The home equipment generally comprises of various sensors.
This includes an elastic band to measure body and chest movement. This helps to assist in analyzing your breathing.
There may also be an airflow device that fits into your nose to measure breathing. A blood oximeter is usually provided to measure blood oxygen levels.
Depending on the company that provides the in-home study, there may be variation in the equipment and protocols.
Sleep Apnea Severity
Once your sleep apnea test has been completed, your doctor will calculate the severity with a scale called the sleep apnea/hypopnea indexes (AHI).
Understanding The AHI Scale And Apneic Episodes
The AHI calculates the severity of sleep apnea by measuring how many times you stop breathing per hour. The periods when you stop breathing are called ‘apneic episodes’.
If you have 5-14 apneic episodes per hour, your sleep apnea is considered mild and you’re unlikely to experience many side effects.
On the other hand, individuals with severe sleep apnea can have 30 or more apneic episodes per hour and are very likely to develop symptoms.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Once you receive a diagnosis of sleep apnea, your specialist physician will recommend a treatment plan. Treatment for sleep apnea depends on the type of sleep apnea you have and the severity.
It’s always essential to first consult with your sleep physician before deciding on an appropriate treatment plan
There are various ways your sleep physician might choose to treat your sleep apnea. This will depend on the kind of sleep apnea you have and other physical and behavioral factors.
Below is a comprehensive list of sleep apnea treatment options.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine
One of the most common treatments for mild to severe sleep apnea is with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP machine). CPAP machines keep your airways open during sleep. These machines are generally referred to as Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) devices.
The CPAP is a device you wear like a small mask at night to keep your airways from collapsing during sleep. The CPAP mask connects to a machine that delivers gentle pressurized airflow. The pressurized airflow reduces or eliminates sleep apnea events, increasing your sleep quality.
You may find that wearing the CPAP is somewhat uncomfortable for the first few nights. Most patients get used to the CPAP after a few days and have a dramatic increase in sleep quality.
Types of CPAP Masks
Before buying your CPAP it’s important to know that there are three different types that suit specific needs. Below is a list of the different types of CPAP masks and machines available.
Nasal CPAP Mask
The Nasal CPAP mask only covers your nose. It directs pressurized air flow directly into the nasal passage.
The nasal CPAP allows for higher pressure than other CPAP machines. This makes it an excellent option if you need higher pressure settings.
Many report the nasal CPAP is more comfortable than the full-face CPAP. This is because it’s less restrictive and allows the wearer to experience a more natural airflow. Patients who use Nasal CPAP also have less restriction on their sleeping position.
The nasal CPAP shouldn’t be used if you have restricted breathing through the nose. It’s also unsuitable if you breathe through your mouth. Your doctor will test for any problems that may inhibit your ability to use the nasal CPAP.
Nasal CPAP Pros
- Delivers high-pressure airflow without being uncomfortable.
- Less restricting than the full CPAP mask.
- Users report a feeling of more natural airflow.
Nasal CPAP Cons
- Not suitable for mouth breathers.
- Not suitable for individuals with restricted airflow through the nasal passage.
- May cause minor irritation to the nasal passage.
Full Face CPAP Mask
The full-face CPAP mask works like the nasal CPAP in its delivery of air but differs by covering both your oral and nasal passages. This is ideal if you breathe through your mouth or have restricted airflow through the nose.
The full-face CPAP also delivers high-pressure airflow and is therefore ideal for severe sleep apnea. There are some minor drawbacks that require consideration before purchasing this particular machine.
The full-face CPAP may feel bulky and restrictive. It’s fine to use if you sleep on your back but you may find it difficult to sleep in other positions.
Sometimes your might unconsciously attempt to remove the mask in your sleep. You can avoid this by making sure the mask fits properly and add extra straps the keep the device in place.
Full Face CPAP Pros
- Delivers high-pressure airflow that’s most suitable for severe sleep apnea. Suitable for mouth breathers or individuals with restricted nasal airflow.
- High-pressure airflow feels less intense due to being evenly distributed.
Full Face CPAP Cons
- Not suitable for nose breathers.
- Maybe restrictive and bulky.
- Users must sleep on their backs.
- Due to the higher surface area, full CPAP masks may leak air.
- Some patients find it difficult to exhale against the high pressure.
CPAP Pillow Mask
The CPAP pillow, also known as the CPAP nasal pillow, nose/nasal pillow, or pillow mask, is the least invasive CPAP machine and feels less like a mask than the nasal and full-face CPAP machines.
The nasal pillows consist of two plastic inserts that fit into the nostrils like a pair of earbuds. Its small size means that the CPAP pillow is the least restrictive and allows for the largest range of movement.
Like the nasal CPAP, the pillow is ideal if you breathe through your nose or sleep in positions other than your back.
Like the nasal CPAP, the pillow is not suitable if you breathe through your mouth. It’s also not ideal if you have restricted airflow through the nasal passage.
The pillow should only be used if you have minor to moderate sleep apnea. This is due to limitations in the strength of pressurized airflow.
Pillow CPAP Pros
- Suitable for nose breathers.
- Least restrictive CPAP which allows a range of motion and sleeping positions.
- Reduced incidences of air leakage because it’s inserted directly into the nostrils.
Pillow CPAP Cons
- Not suitable for mouth breathers.
- May not be suitable for patients that need higher pressures.
- May cause irritation and dryness to the nasal passage.
Drawbacks to the CPAP
While the CPAP is an extremely helpful treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, it does have its limitations.
The CPAP only uses one constant pressure. You will need to undergo annual pressure titration studies to determine the specific pressure settings for your CPAP machine.
With these issues in mind, you might consider using a non-CPAP sleep apnea machine instead.
When the CPAP isn’t a suitable option, your healthcare provider may prescribe a different type of sleep apnea machine. Below is a list of alternative sleep apnea machine.
Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) Machine
Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) machines are very similar to CPAP machines.
APAP vs CPAP
Like CPAP, the APAP machine delivers pressurized airflow into your oral or nasal airways to keep the throat from collapsing.
Unlike CPAP, the APAP automatically adjusts the amount of pressure to the lowest necessary level needed to keep your airways open. This is perfect in you have variation in your breathing throughout the night.
For instance, some people only experience sleep apnea events during specific stages of sleep, such as the REM stage. It makes more sense for these people to only receive high-pressure air delivery during the REM phase.
This not only makes treatment more comfortable but can also help to prevent irritation caused by high-pressure air. Like CPAP, APA is fitted with a nasal mask, full face mask, or nasal pillow mask.
- The pressure automatically adjusts to the individual.
- Provides a more comfortable experience than CPAP.
- Suitable for patients that change position throughout the night.
- APAP adjusts if the patient’s sleep apnea severity changes, such as in the case of weight gain or loss.
- Usually more expensive than CPAP.
- The pressure adjustment can be slow and so apnea events may still occur.
Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) Machine
Like the APAP and CPAP, the Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure BiPAP machine also supplies continuous pressurized air to keep your airways open. BiPAP machines adjust the pressure to both your inhaling and exhaling.
The highest pressure only occurs during inhalation (ipap) and pressure adjusts down for exhalation (epap). This is perfect if you need high pressure but also find it difficult to exhale while using the CPAP.
CPAP vs BiPAP
Certain health conditions limit the use the CPAP. The BiPAP with its natural dual pressure system is often an excellent alternative.
- The dual pressure system makes BiPAP very comfortable for users.
- Better for patients with neuromuscular disease or those who need breathing assistance.
- Effective for patients with cardiopulmonary disorders such as congestive heart failure.
- Users can experience nasal irritation.
- Central apneas may occur with BiPAP.
- The BiPAP machine cannot be used until a patient fails at using CPAP.
- BiPAPs are expensive.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Without CPAP
Sometimes sleep apnea may not be bad enough to warrant the use of a sleep apnea machine. On the other hand, severe sleep apnea might require more extensive treatment.
Below is a list of additional therapeutic options for treating sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Surgery
If your sleep apnea is due to an anatomical abnormality, such as enlarged tonsils or a large soft palate, surgery may be your best option.
Sleep apnea surgery success rates are variable. Corrective surgery for sleep apnea is not guaranteed to cure you but it will help reduce the severity of your symptoms. It may also eliminate your need for a sleep apnea machine.
Surgical procedures for sleep apnea include:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPP) targets the soft palate and other obstructing tissues at the roof of the mouth. Excess tissues it removes to make the airway wider.
- Radiofrequency Volumetric Tissue Reduction (RFVTR) is a less invasive treatment option than UPP and used cauterization to shrink air blocking tissue in the mouth.
- Septoplasty and Turbinate Reduction opens the nasal passage to allow better airflow through the nose. This is generally used to correct deviated nasal septum or other abnormalities.
- Genioglossus Advancement corrects problems with tongue position. During sleep, the tongue can slide back into the mouth and block the throat. This surgery prevents the tongue from blocking the air passage.
- Hyoid Suspension enlarges the space for breathing in the lower throat. The hyoid bone and its muscle attach to the tongue and airway. Pulling the hyoid bone forward and it’s attached structures increases airway size.
- Midline Glossectomy and Lingualplasty reduced the size of the back of the tongue, which may be blocking the airways.
- Maxillomandibular Osteotomy (MMO) and Advancement (MMA) is usually reserved for severe sleep apnea. This surgery moves both the upper and lower jaw forward to enlarge the space for breathing. It’s an invasive surgery and is usually only used in server cases.
- Palatal implants involve implanting a small rod into the soft palate to stiffen the tissue. This reduces the possibility of airway blockage. It can also reduce snoring.
Learn more different sleep apnea surgeries currently available.
Oral Appliances For Sleep Apnea
Some people may only need minor adjustments to the position of their jaw to address their sleep apnea. In this case, an oral sleep apnea device is an excellent option.
Oral sleep apnea devices look similar to a mouth guard and are only worn during sleep.
These appliances work by moving the position of your lower jaw and tongue forward and upward. This prevents blockage of the airways by increasing the size of your upper airway.
Oral sleep apnea appliances are normally prescribed by dentists who are trained in sleep medicine. They can be used for patients with any severity level of OSA.
There are several different types of oral appliances currently available. Common oral devices include:
- Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD). The MAD prevents upper airway collapse by protruding the mandible forward, thus altering the jaw and tongue position. They’re also known as Mandibular Advancement Splints (MAS) and Mandibular Repositioning Appliances (MRA).
- Tongue Retaining Devices (TRD). The TRD holds the tongue in a forward position during sleep. This increases the space in your mouth, preventing the airways from blockage.
Home Remedies for Sleep Apnea
Several publicly available, non-medical, products are available to help reduce the severity of sleep apnea. These products include:
- Mouth tapes. Sometimes sleep apnea can be made worse by mouth breathing. Using mouth tape forces you to breathe out of your nose instead of your mouth.
- Sleep Apnea Pillows. Sleep apnea pillows can be used without a CPAP machine to position your neck so your airways stay open. Other Sleep apnea pillows are made for use with a CPAP to keep you comfortable while wearing the mask.
- Chin Strap. An anti-snoring chin strap works like mouth tape. It’s a device that’s placed under your chin and wraps over your head. It supports your chin and keeps your mouth closed whilst you sleep. The chin strap is sometimes used with the CPAP to help increase its effectiveness.
- Sleep Position Aids. Some forms of sleep apnea can be improved by changing your sleep position. There are various position aids, such as wedge pillows, to keep you on your back or side while you sleep.
- Beds and Mattresses. Like sleep position aids, adjustable beds and mattresses are available that keep you in a better position for your sleep apnea.
Last updated: 2020-01-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.
Living With Sleep Apnea
Living with sleep apnea may mean you have to make some lifestyle changes to help you deal with the disorder. These include both changes to your behaviour and changes to your environment.
Lifestyle Changes For Sleep Apnea
There are many achievable changes you can make in your life to help reduce the severity and sometimes even completely eliminate your sleep apnea.
Lifestyle changes include:
- Lose weight. One of the most important changes you can make is addressing your weight. Obesity is one of the leading contributors to the development of sleep apnea. Addressing your diet and exercise should be your first step to reducing the severity of your sleep apnea.
- Stop using drugs. Restricting the intake of drugs and alcohol can help to reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. Alcohol and some drugs lead to the relaxation of muscles in the throat. This causes obstructed airflow.
- Stop smoking. Quitting smoking is important because the smoke causes irritation to the throat and lungs. This can lead to inflammation and swelling, which increases the likelihood of obstruction
- Better sleep hygiene. Maintaining a strict sleep schedule and adhering to good sleep hygiene will help you achieve better rest. Anything that negatively impacts your sleep or circadian rhythm will make your sleep apnea worse.
- Sleep position. Your doctor may recommend that you sleep in a different position to help maintain open airways. This may be on your side or propped up on a pillow.
- Sleep apnea aids. You may have to rely on medical devices, including CPAP machines or oral mouth devices. This may result in changes to how you position yourself in bed. You will also have to take your device into consideration when travelling.
- Adjust the bedroom. You may have to change your mattress, bedding, or pillow to help maintain a position that helps to prevents your airways from collapsing.
- Medication. You may need to start taking medication to help you stay awake during the day. These include various stimulants.