How to Avoid CPAP Therapy: 5 Alternative Treatments for Sleep Apnea

From Weight Loss to Surgery, Potential Fixes Abound

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, the first treatment option offered will likely be continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), but what if you need alternative treatments for your sleep apnea? There can be major hurdles to tolerating CPAP, and if you can’t overcome these, you aren't totally out of luck. There are a handful of other treatment options that might offer relief, ranging from home remedies like weight loss to avoiding alcohol or raising the head of the bed and medical therapy like oral appliances and surgery. Discover what might work best for you.

1

Losing Weight

Weight loss through diet and exercise may help to reduce the likelihood of sleep apnea
John Fedele/Blend Images/Getty Images

Being overweight or obese is often a major contributor to having sleep apnea. If this is the case, shedding a few pounds (often at least 10 percent of body weight) may correct the situation. Extra weight can narrow your airway, depositing fat at the base of the tongue, and make it more prone to collapse. If this is the case, diet and exercise may be all the treatment that you need. Unfortunately, many people have multiple contributions to having sleep apnea, and maintaining your ideal body weight may not be a complete fix for everyone.

2

Position Therapy

Sleeping on your side and staying off your back may help to avoid sleep apnea and snoring
MAURO FERMARIELLO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

You may be someone who snores or has more sleep apnea when you sleep on your back. If this is the case, you may find that sleeping on your side is the solution. This may be accomplished by propping your body with a pile of pillows. Another solution is to sew a tennis ball into the back of a t-shirt. Wearing this to bed will keep you from shifting to your back while you are asleep. There are also more expensive positioners including Slumber Bump, Zzoma, and Night Shift.

What about raising the head of the bed? Some people have decreased apnea if they have the head of their bed slightly elevated. This can be accomplished by using a sleep wedge pillow, which is a ramp of foam that is highest at the head of the bed. In some cases, an adjustable bed can be used to raise the head enough to eliminate snoring and help apnea. Newer beds may try to automate these adjustments for you.

3

Oral Appliances

Oral appliances fitted by a dentist may move the lower jaw and tongue forward and help to treat snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea

Brandon Peters, M.D.

There are specially designed oral appliances or dental devices that may be helpful in correcting anatomical problems. If you have a short or recessed jaw, a mandibular advancement device may move things into better position. This shifts the tongue forward and reduces crowding within the airway. It is typically specially fitted at a specialty dentist’s office. It is worn at night and it can successfully treat mild to moderate sleep apnea for some people. It may have some side effects, however, including discomfort, dry mouth, teeth movement, or jaw joint issues.

4

Avoidance of Sedatives and Alcohol

Alcohol may relax the airway muscles and avoiding it before bedtime may help to treat snoring and sleep apnea
Annabelle Breakey/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The use of sedatives and alcohol can relax the muscles of your upper airway and make it more prone to collapse. Avoiding these agents in the hours before bedtime may improve your symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring. You may also need to be careful about the use of prescription medication such as sleeping pills and narcotic pain medications.

5

Surgery

Surgery may help to change anatomy in the nose or throat that contribute to sleep apnea risk
Getty Images

There are multiple surgical options that may be deployed. Historically, the most common is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). UPPP is the surgical removal of excess tissue in the upper airway, including the back of the mouth and the throat. It may improve snoring, but sleep apnea may persist. Surgery of the soft palate alone is also possible. Other (more extreme) options include tracheostomy, which is a surgical incision at the front of the windpipe. Removal of the tonsils and adenoids may be helpful in select cases, especially in children. There is also the option of surgical advancement of the jaw. Tonsillectomy may be the first treatment choice in children, but surgical options are otherwise typically a second-line therapy in adults.

A Word From Verywell

If you struggle to improve your breathing during sleep, seek assistance from a board-certified sleep medicine physician who will be able to provider further personalized advice.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 6th edition, 2016.
  • Mowzoon, N et al. "Neurology of Sleep Disorders." Neurology Board Review: An Illustrated Guide. 2007; 726.