Sleep apnea is a disorder which causes brief cessations to breathing when you sleep. Depending on the severity of the disorder, these interruptions to your breathing can happen many times every hour. The body is prompted to awake for air, and although these arousals may only last for seconds, their frequency can take a significant toll on your quality of sleep.
There are a number of natural remedies and lifestyle changes which can help address the symptoms of this disorder. However, while treating sleep apnea naturally can help reduce symptoms for those with a mild to moderate degree of the disorder, it may not completely eliminate them.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of this sleep disorder, with the upper airways collapsing overnight, leading to breathing difficulties. Weight is a major contributing factor to OSA and it is estimated that over 70% of those with sleep apnea are overweight. Excess tissue in the throat increases the risk of obstruction when the muscles relax as you sleep.
Therefore, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight will often be the first recommendation from your doctor. For people with mild to moderate OSA, losing weight may be sufficient and they require no further treatment options.
However, weight loss may reduce OSA symptoms without totally eliminating them. Regaining weight could also increase the risk of the symptoms returning.
Much of any weight loss program will center around a more nutritious diet and exercise. However, exercise can help in another way beyond just weight loss.
Moderate levels of exercise may improve your sleep quality, although exercising too close to bed can have the opposite effect. Most of us will think of running or cycling or walking, but there is another form of exercise which is viewed as excellent for improving sleep quality.
Yoga not only energizes you like other exercise forms, the breathing exercises help strengthen your heart and improve respiratory flow. The breathing cessations from OSA reduces your blood oxygen levels.
By exercising and improving your respiratory capacity you can improve your blood oxygen levels and reduce the amount of interruptions to sleep you may experience overnight.
The breathing exercises associated with yoga also help you relax and clear the mind. This relaxation can help you sleep better. Meditation, reading or a pleasant warm bath before bed are further relaxation methods that may help promote sleep.
Change Your Sleep Position
According to a 2006 study, the position in which people sleep affects over 50% of adults with OSA. When you sleep on your back. gravity can pull the throat tissues down, blocking the airways and worsening OSA symptoms. Therefore, by changing position and sleeping on your side, you may be able to reduce symptoms naturally.
You can use a wedge pillow to help ensure you remain on your side throughout the night. There are home-made options that also help prevent you turning on to your back. One of the simplest is sewing a tennis ball in to the base of the shirt you sleep in. Your doctor can help you obtain the best solution to refrain from sleeping on your back if this is the position when you predominantly display OSA symptoms.
Your doctor will also address your lifestyle when looking to reduce your OSA symptoms naturally to improve the quality of your sleep. Top of this list will be tobacco and alcohol. You will be asked to quit smoking as this can cause inflammation in the throat, increasing the risk from blocked airways.
Alcohol can also cause inflammation. However, alcohol can also relax the muscles in the throat, making them more prone to collapse. Muscles can over-relax from alcohol as it is a depressant. This can also lead to a slowing of your respiratory system, further reducing the levels of oxygen reaching the brain.
Your doctor is likely to ask you to reduce your alcohol intake and avoid drinking alcohol in the immediate hours before bed.
Treat Nasal Congestion
Anything which reduces airflow can compound your OSA symptoms. Nasal congestion and other sinus issues already make breathing harder and can also make it difficult to sleep. Nasal sprays are one approach to treating nasal congestion. Another is using a humidifier.
Dry air can irritate the sinuses and a humidifier adds moisture to the air you breathe to ease this problem. Using a humidifier overnight can also help keep your airways open and ease nasal congestion. Those with severe OSA who are prescribed CPAP will often use a humidifier with their machine to moisten the air and prevent a dry mouth in the morning.
The jury is still out on some of the other remedies that may offer relief naturally from OSA symptoms. One of these is acupuncture. A 2009 study which treated OSA with acupuncture reported significant improvement in blood oxygen levels.
However, despite some of the promising results using acupuncture, the studies have been based on small groups of participants and therefore more research is required.
While herbs have been used to address a multitude of ailments, there is yet no evidence to suggest they offer a natural remedy for sleep apnea.
Moderate to Severe OSA
While treating OSA naturally can help ease the symptoms of mild to moderate OSA, people with a more severe degree of the disorder will require medical-based treatments.
CPAP is the leading treatment method and involves a machine delivering pressurized air through a mask worn overnight.
An oral device which helps position the tongue and jaw as you sleep to keep the airways open is another option, particularly for people who struggle to tolerate CPAP – and who have mild to moderate OSA.
Yet even those with severe OSA will often benefit from natural treatments and lifestyle changes alongside their prescribed treatment. Compliance with your treatment plan is crucial as sleep apnea left untreated increases the risk from serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression.
If you are having problems sleeping and have symptoms such as frequently awaking for air, snoring, daytime fatigue and morning headaches you should book an appointment with your doctor and discuss a possible test for sleep apnea.