6 Natural Treatments for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a dangerous health condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. Other symptoms include snoring, daytime sleepiness, morning headache, and dry mouth or sore throat. Because sleep apnea decreases daytime alertness and increases an individual’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, healthcare providers usually recommend treatment for sleep apnea.
For many people, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is the most effective sleep apnea treatment. But if you don’t want a CPAP, talk with your healthcare provider about these natural sleep apnea remedies.
Some studies have found that exercise alone—even without weight loss—can improve sleep apnea. A 2014 research review found that study participants who exercised consistently over 12 to 24 weeks experienced a one-third reduction in apneic episodes (breath pauses) from their personal baseline, as well as significant improvements in daytime alertness. The authors of the review noted that the improvements in sleep and alertness were similar to what’s typically seen with CPAP treatment.
Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than people who’ve never smoked, according to Mayo Clinic. Research hasn’t yet fully untangled the link between sleep apnea and smoking, but smoking’s negative impact on the lungs and blood vessels are well known and clinicians suspect smoking-related inflammation of the upper airway may contribute to sleep apnea.
If you smoke and don’t want a CPAP for sleep apnea, you may want to consider quitting smoking. Your doctor can help you find a smoking cessation program.
Sleeping position can affect sleep apnea. When you sleep on your back, your tongue and soft palate can partially block your airway, increasing the number of breath pauses you experience. When you lay on your side or stomach, your tongue and soft palate are less likely to block your airway, so you breathe better. People with mild cases of sleep apnea may benefit from postural therapy, or the use of devices that encourage side sleeping. You can purchase a variety of positioning aids online, including positioning pillows and belts that vibrate to encourage you to change position.
Sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight or obese, in part because excess fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct breathing. Excess belly fat can also decrease lung capacity and limit the free flow of air. Studies have shown that losing 10 to 15% of body weight can decrease the severity of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by as much as 50%. However, additional treatment may be necessary.
5Avoid alcohol and certain medications before bed
If you usually have a nightcap (or 2 or 3) before bed, you’ll probably breathe better if you skip it. Alcohol and certain medications—particularly tranquilizers, sedatives, and muscle relaxants—relax the muscles of the throat, which can contribute to airway blockage during sleep. If you drink alcohol, stopping several hours before bedtime may relieve your sleep apnea. If you regularly take a sedative or muscle relaxant, talk with your doctor; perhaps another medication could be substituted for the one you currently take.
Exercises that strengthen the muscles that control the lips, tongue, soft palate, and face may decrease sleep apnea. These specialized exercises, known alternatively as orofacial therapy, orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), or myofunctional therapy (MT), have been shown to improve nighttime breathing in both children and adults with obstructive sleep apnea. The exercises are usually performed 5 to 10 minutes, 2 to 5 times per day over 2 to 3 months. Clinical research has found that orofacial therapy can decrease the number of breathing pauses at night by 50% or more.
If you are interested in orofacial therapy, talk with your doctor.