The Effects of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea, a condition that causes your airway becomes blocked during sleep and for you to wake up many times throughout the night.
Though you may not feel like your sleep apnea is a serious issue, it is. You might not feel the full effects of it now, but it can lead to potentially life-threatening health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Fully at-home treatment is not recommended due to the risks of sleep apnea. While there are at-home treatments and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your symptoms, professional treatment will help you to sleep better and feel more invigorated.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are the standard treatment for sleep apnea. They push air through your throat and into your lungs in order to maintain regular breathing throughout the night.
A small machine will sit near you, often on your bedside table. This machine is connected to a mask that you place over your nose and mouth as you sleep.
Oral Appliance Therapy
Oral appliances are customized mouthpieces that are designed to help you keep breathing while you’re asleep. These appliances, like those provided by Dr. Miriam Dani, are smaller and more portable than CPAP machines, but they’re often just as effective.
There are two common types of appliances — one that moves your lower jaw forward slightly to open your throat more and another that holds your tongue in place so it won’t slide back into your throat.
These appliances can be used on their own or alongside a CPAP machine for ease of treatment during travel.
Surgery for OSA is often the last resort because they’re often not as effective as CPAP or oral appliances. But if neither of those treatments works for you, surgery may be considered.
Some surgeries can remove extra tissue in your throat or adjust your bone structures to make it easier for you to breathe during sleep.
Lifestyle Changes to Improve Symptoms
Though professional treatment should come first, there are some things you can do on your own to help improve your symptoms. If you find that your prescribed treatment isn’t enough or you wish to further increase your quality of life, these activities may help.
If you’re having difficulty with your treatment or need recommendations, experienced sleep apnea dentists like Dr. Chiarina Iregui can help you find the treatment combination that works best for you.
Often, sleep apnea and snoring become worse when the affected person lays on their back because it’s easier for the airway to become blocked. Even if this is the way you’ve always slept, you can retrain yourself to sleep on your side.
That’s the basis of positional therapy. This can be achieved through wearing a device around your waist or back that keeps you on your side, or a device around the neck that emits a small vibration if you sleep on your back that won’t wake you up but encourage you to roll onto your side.
Another trick that can be done at-home is to attach a tennis ball to the back of your pajama shirt to discourage rolling onto your back during sleep.
Your risk for developing sleep apnea and worsening of symptoms increases as you gain weight. People who are overweight often have thicker necks with more excess tissue that causes their throats to become blocked.
In these cases, losing weight can help you to sleep better or even eliminate your sleep apnea. It’s important to keep in mind that weight isn’t always the cause of OSA, though. Even people who aren’t overweight can still have sleep apnea.
Nasal decongestants may work for sleep apnea in some people. They can help to open your nose up so you can breathe easier and through your nose rather than your mouth.
Especially if you snore loudly and persistently, nasal decongestants can help you. There are also nose strips available that can clear your nose and help with snoring.
Limit Alcohol & Smoking
It’s a common misconception that alcohol helps you to sleep better. In fact, alcohol may cause you to fall asleep quicker but decreases the quality of sleep you get. It also relaxes the muscles in your throat and makes it easier for them to interrupt breathing.
Smokers are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea, though it’s not known exactly why. One theory is that tobacco irritates the upper airway and makes it narrower.
Mouth & Throat Exercises
Sleep apnea can be the result of weakened muscles in the throat and tongue, causing them to collapse when you’re asleep. Like many muscles in your body, you can strengthen them through exercise.
There’s some evidence that playing wind instruments may prevent sleep apnea due to the strength of the muscles and learned breathing patterns required to play them.
A didgeridoo is an instrument created by the aboriginal Australians that emits a low-pitched humming noise. It’s become a popular sleep apnea treatment because it helps to strengthen the tongue and throat.
If you’ve been looking to pick up playing an instrument, wind instruments such as the didgeridoo can also help to treat your sleep apnea.
Pair Treatments for Better Results
Professional treatment can be effective on its own but may provide more noticeable results if paired with alternative treatments. Sleep apnea dentists like Dr. Scott Clinton recommend pairing these additional treatment options with your professional treatment for the best outcome.