4 Tricks to Reduce Sleep Apnea Severity
Few things can be more disruptive to your sleep than obstructive sleep apnea. Worst of all, many individuals suffering from sleep apnea don’t even realize they have a problem! They wake up feeling tired and groggy in the morning, but think they slept soundly through the night.
During obstructive sleep apnea, your breathing passages close off, restricting the flow of oxygen through the body. After a few seconds, your brain recognizes that you are no longer breathing, and triggers a response that forces you to wake up.
The problem is that while sleep apnea events can occur all night long (and sometimes dozens of times an hour), most people do not remember those brief instances in which they wake up gasping for breath. In fact, many people do not realize they have sleep apnea unless their partner hears these events during the night.
Left unchecked, obstructive sleep apnea can worsen symptoms of several severe health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression. Even on a day to day basis, fatigue and irritability stemming from a lack of sleep can worsen your overall quality of life.
The good news is that sleep apnea can be controlled. There are several tricks and tools you can use to improve sleep quality and keep sleep apnea under control.
1. Use a CPAP Machine
The more severe your sleep apnea, the more likely it is that a CPAP machine will be the most effective solution. CPAP machines supply a steady flow of oxygen throughout the night. This keeps your airways open, preventing the collapse that interrupts your breathing.
The proper setting for your needs will be determined with the help of medical professionals. Generally, a sleep study will be conducted to diagnose the severity of your sleep apnea. Using this information, your doctor will determine the appropriate air pressure level to prevent incidences of sleep apnea.
Just as important as the CPAP machine itself is the mask. There are several different CPAP masks available, each designed to accommodate different breathing styles and user preferences. For example, a full face mask is recommended for people who breathe through their mouth. Full face masks are also recommended for people who frequently suffer from nasal congestion, as well as those who require higher air pressure settings.
Because some people feel claustrophobic while wearing a full face mask, nasal masks and nasal pillows are also available. These smaller masks only cover the nose. Their lighter weight can be more comfortable, and they are also less prone to air leaks. Both are well suited for individuals who toss and turn in their sleep, and nasal pillows are especially good for individuals with facial hair.
CPAP therapy has consistently been found to be effective at reducing the severity of obstructive sleep apnea, as well as many of the conditions that are associated with it. For example, Medical News Today reports that in a comparison of CPAP patients and those using other supplemental oxygen systems (or no treatment at all), CPAP patients were better able to lower high blood pressure in comparison to other groups.
While users don’t always immediately feel the effects of CPAP therapy, research has found that remaining compliant with your treatment guidelines can improve daytime alertness and energy levels, reduce the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems, improve cognitive abilities, and even improve sexual function.
Of course, these benefits will only come if you are compliant with your CPAP therapy recommendations. Getting used to wearing a CPAP mask at night may take some practice, but it is well worth the outcomes. Practice wearing the mask during the day to get used to how it feels. If the air pressure setting is uncomfortable, use a CPAP machine that offers a ramping feature, which gradually increases air pressure until you fall asleep. Using a humidifier can also make treatment more comfortable. Your doctor could recommend other options to improve comfort so it is easier for you to stay on track with your treatment.
2. Avoid Sleeping on Your Back
The way you sleep can actually play a big role in the severity of your sleep apnea. Generally speaking, you are more likely to suffer from severe sleep apnea when you sleep on your back. Adjusting your sleep position can actually help reduce the number of interruptions to sleep you experience during the night, particularly if you are also using a CPAP machine.
But why does your sleep position make such a big difference? In an interview with U.S. News, Dr. Sheila Tsai explains, “Sleep apnea is often worse in the supine (on your back) position because of gravity…The tongue falls back and blocks the airway.” When sleeping on your side — or even your stomach — this is no longer an issue, which can greatly reduce both snoring and sleep apnea.
Noting that some people are unable to change their sleep position due to conditions like acid reflux, Tsai went on to note that, “Sleeping with the head as elevated and upright as possible, such as with an adjustable bed or in a recliner, may be helpful in improving sleep apnea symptoms.”
Using a thick pillow that provides greater support to the neck and head can provide comfort and mitigate sleep apnea for individuals sleeping on their neck or back. For those sleeping on their stomach, a thin pillow is recommended to avoid neck strain.
For those who roll around in their sleep, sleep position therapy devices like the Philips Respironics NightBalance can help you stay on your side. These small devices are strapped to your chest to detect your sleep position. When you roll onto your back, the device will gently vibrate to get you to shift back to your side. This is an easy, non-invasive way to adjust your sleeping habits.
3. Lose Weight
Being overweight or obese is commonly connected with sleep apnea. In fact, the Obesity Medicine Association describes obesity as “the only truly reversible risk factor” for obstructive sleep apnea, noting that roughly 70 percent of adults with obstructive sleep apnea are also obese. Generally speaking, individuals with a higher BMI have more severe sleep apnea symptoms. Obesity can also increase the risk for obstructive sleep apnea in children.
The problem occurs because obesity often contributes to the buildup of fatty tissue around the neck. At night, this excess tissue compresses the throat, cutting off the breathing passages. Because of this, dietary changes and exercise should be a top priority for individuals who want to lose weight and enjoy higher-quality sleep.
Regular exercise not only helps you lose weight, but it has also been found to contribute to higher-quality sleep. “Cardio” exercise — activities such as jogging or biking — are great for improving fitness, burning calories, and helping you fall asleep faster. Just be sure to exercise in the afternoon, rather than right before bed, as exercising can also give you a temporary energy boost.
If it has been quite some time since you exercised regularly, don’t try to rush in to an intensive exercise regimen all at once. This could actually increase your risk of injury, which could cause significant setbacks for your fitness journey. Instead, make this a gradual process, which will allow you to improve your physical fitness over time.
For example, you could start by walking one mile a day. Work up to a mix of walking and jogging before trying to run the full distance. Consider working with a personal trainer who can recommend exercises based on your weight loss goals, and also hold you accountable for staying on track with your training program.
In addition to cardiovascular activities, yoga has been found to be particularly beneficial for individuals who suffer from sleep apnea. Yoga practices often include a focus on mindful breathing. Some routines focus almost entirely on breathing exercises. This can help enhance the flow of oxygen through the body, and even increase your body’s respiratory strength.
Naturally, these exercise changes should be paired with a healthy diet. Avoid overly processed foods that are high in salt and sugar. Instead, eat a balanced mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Your doctor can offer specific diet recommendations based on your health needs.
Losing excess weight won’t just help you sleep better. It will reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and several other potential health complications.
4. Don’t Use Cigarettes or Drink Alcohol
Alcohol and tobacco are already linked to a vast range of negative health outcomes, from liver disease to lung cancer. But they can also harm your sleep quality by making you more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea.
Cigarette smoke can cause the throat to become swollen and inflamed. While alcohol can also inflame your breathing passages, it also relaxes the muscles in the throat. Alcohol slows your breathing rate and causes you to take shallower breaths. This also occurs with sleeping pills, which overly relax the muscles and increase the risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
Even for people who don’t normally experience sleep apnea, excessive alcohol use has been found to cause one-off incidences of sleep apnea in heavy drinkers.
Because of the strong link between obstructive sleep apnea and the use of these substances, it is generally recommended that individuals who have been diagnosed with OSA quit using tobacco and alcohol entirely. For some, this may require a gradual process of reducing their consumption of these substances over time.
If you can’t quit entirely, you should at least make an effort to minimize the use of alcohol and tobacco before bed. Experiencing additional muscle relaxation and airway irritation shortly before bedtime will make you far more likely to experience interruptions to breathing when you go to sleep.
While quitting smoking or stopping drinking may be a major lifestyle change, it is one that brings several benefits. You will enjoy improved physical health by reducing your risk for serious medical conditions. You won’t be subjected to the compulsions of a physical addiction. You won’t run the risk of drinking and driving. You will also save a lot of money (which can be especially helpful if you are undergoing CPAP therapy).
While cutting these substances out of your life won’t necessarily cause sleep apnea to go away, it can reduce the severity of your condition and help you enjoy a better overall quality of life.
Control Sleep Apnea & Enjoy a Healthier Life
While lifestyle changes alone may be enough to counteract mild cases of sleep apnea, most people who struggle with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea will need to use a CPAP machine.
The costs associated with buying CPAP equipment can understandably seem quite steep, especially if you don’t have insurance. However, the long-term risks (including the financial costs) of not controlling your sleep apnea far outweigh any initial inconvenience of adapting to this equipment.
At No Insurance Medical Supplies, we understand how starting to use CPAP equipment can be challenging. That’s why we offer CPAP and BiPAP machines from top manufacturers like ResMed, Philips Respironics, and DeVilbiss at discounted prices. We even offer certified pre-owned equipment to help you save even more.
In addition to CPAP machines, we also sell masks, tubing, sanitation equipment, and more — everything you need for effective CPAP therapy. Financing is available on select purchases to break your order into more affordable monthly payments.
Making smart changes now can lead to big sleep improvements that dramatically transform your health in the future. Start today so you can enjoy the quality sleep that you need.