Sleep apnea treatment

Treating sleep apnea can help you regain the restful, refreshing sleep you’ve been missing out on. With effective sleep apnea treatment, you can look forward to more peaceful nights as well as awakening with more energy to face the day.

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Can sleep apnea be cured?1

Obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type of sleep apnea) is often caused by having too much tissue around your neck area, particularly in your throat and palate. One way to treat this risk is to reduce the amount of tissue in this area.

If you’re overweight, one approach to treatment is to lose weight. Another way is to have surgery to reduce the amount of excess tissue around your neck. Surgery can have side effects and it isn’t always successful, which is why it's normally viewed as a last resort.

To treat sleep apnea, doctors usually recommend a combination of CPAP therapy and weight loss, because together, these two interventions are more effective than either one alone.2

Central sleep apnea may improve if the underlying cause is addressed, but CPAP, or a similar therapy is usually the first line of treatment.

What are the benefits of treating sleep apnea?

If your energy level, mood and productivity are being zapped by sleep apnea, you’re likely to really notice the benefits of treatment. You can expect improvements in your awakeness as well as a reduction in daytime headaches – if sleep apnea was causing them or making them worse.
Your general feeling of well-being may improve, and your long-suffering family might also be able to sleep more soundly without listening to you snore.
As sleep apnea can also have long term effects on your heart, metabolism and overall health, seeking treatment makes total sense for your overall well-being.

How to treat obstructive sleep apnea

Weight loss/lifestyle changes

Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can cause you to gain weight.3 Losing weight (if you’re overweight) can help with the sleep apnea as well as enhancing your overall health.4

Quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol intake (particularly in the evening) can also help reduce obstructive sleep apnea.5

Positional therapy6,7

Some people only experience sleep apnea when they sleep on their back. When sleeping on their side they breathe just fine. If this is you, then positional therapy may be the answer. The idea is to stop you rolling onto your back. The simplest way is to sew a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas. 

There are also more high-tech solutions: gadgets that sense if you roll onto your back, and then gentle urge you to move back onto your side. Learn more

 

 

CPAP

CPAP stands for ‘continuous positive airway pressure’. CPAP therapy is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea. It’s a device that delivers a constant flow of air via a mask while you sleep, preventing your airway from becoming blocked and enabling you to sleep peacefully and awaken refreshed. Learn more about CPAP therapy.

Bi-level or Bi-PAP

Bi-level (or Bi-PAP) machines are similar to CPAP machines except that they deliver a lower pressure when you’re breathing out. If you need higher pressure to treat your sleep apnea, you may find it difficult to adjust to regular CPAP and bi-level may be more comfortable for you. 

 

Mandibular therapy

A specially designed custom mouthguard may work as an alternative to CPAP therapy.  An example of this is called a Narval™CC. It works by holding your bottom jaw in a forward position, which makes more space behind your tongue.

Narval is effective in relieving snoring as well as mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. People with more severe obstructive sleep apnea who can’t manage to use CPAP may be  advised to give one of these a try.

 

Surgery

If CPAP and/or mandibular therapy haven’t worked for you, one or more invasive surgical options can be performed as a sleep apnea treatment. Your surgeon may recommend one or more of these as a last resort: 

  • Somnoplasty reduces the amount of soft tissue at the back of your throat.
  • Sinus surgery can help some people whose snoring is caused by a blocked nose.
  • Removing your tonsils and adenoids may help if they are blocking your airway.
  • Surgery to cut away tissue from your soft palate or uvula may help if these areas are affecting your breathing when you sleep.
  • Laser treatment creates scar tissue on your soft palate which stiffens when it heals.7

 

How to treat central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea may affect up to 20% of people with sleep apnea.10 It occurs without any blockage in your airway. You just stop breathing for 10 seconds or more while you’re asleep. Eventually, reduced oxygen levels trigger you to take a breath.

If you’re diagnosed with central sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe a device similar to CPAP but more sophisticated, called ‘Adaptive Servo Ventilation’ (ASV).11

Other treatments for central sleep apnea include:

  • Moving to a lower altitude if your central sleep apnea is worse at high altitudes (however this isn’t always practical)
  • Changing your medication if the condition is induced by drug therapy - always discuss medication changes with your doctor.
Is there a natural sleep apnea treatment?
 
Healthy weight
This is the only natural sleep apnea treatment with strong evidence to support it. Being the right weight will help prevent fatty tissue from building up around your throat, which can trigger breathing problems when you sleep.12 Losing weight, if you’re overweight, and keeping the weight off, may reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea.
 
Acupuncture
Acupuncture may help with the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.13 Both manual acupuncture and electro acupuncture therapies have been shown to improve the vital signs of people with obstructive sleep apnea. Scientists aren’t sure how acupuncture works to help sleep apnea and the current evidence is limited.

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How to treat mild sleep apnea without CPAP

Mild sleep apnea is when you’re having between 5 and 14 breathing pauses every hour.14 If you have mild sleep apnea, and you have no other medical conditions or risk factors, you can try using lifestyle changes and regular monitoring to manage your sleep apnea9.

In addition to achieving your ideal weight, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol, you can also try using a humidifier to decrease congestion in your airways and keep your nose unblocked. If you don’t mind the smell you can try using essential oils such as thyme, rose or eucalyptus. These are known for their anti-inflammatory effects.15

If you still have symptoms after trying these methods, it’s time to talk to one of our friendly sleep coaches to discuss your next steps.

How to treat severe sleep apnea
Severe sleep apnea is when you‘re having over 30 breathing pauses every hour.11 If your sleep study indicates that you have severe sleep apnea, you’re probably experiencing significant symptoms that are having an impact on your day-to-day functioning.

This is an area where CPAP therapy can make a big difference as it has been shown to reduce daytime symptoms.

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Citations

2

Source: Chirinos JA et al.N Engl J Med. 2014 Jun 12;370(24):2265-75.

6

Source: Bignold JJ et al. J Clin Sleep Med. 2009 Oct 15;5(5):428-30.

7

Source: Omobomi O and Quan SF, Sleep Breath. 2018 May;22(2):297-304

8

Source: Vecchierini MF et al. Sleep Med. 2016 Mar;19:131-40.

11

Source: Allam, J.S., et al., Chest, 2007. 132(6): p. 1839-46.

13

Source: Zheng-tao, LV et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. April 4; 2016