Natural Remedies for Sleep Apnea

Physiotherapist Doing Acupuncture On The Back
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Sleep apnea is a serious and common condition marked by pauses in breathing (or shallow breaths) while you sleep. Occurring up to five (or more) times per hour, breathing pauses may last 10 to 20 seconds or longer. Sleep apnea often disrupts sleep, resulting in poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.

Obstructive Sleep vs. Central Sleep

In people with obstructive sleep apnea (the most common form of sleep apnea), airflow to the lungs is blocked because the airway has collapsed or is obstructed during sleep.

Less common than obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea results from miscommunication between your breathing muscles and the brain region responsible for controlling your breathing.

Causes

In many people with obstructive sleep apnea, airways become blocked due to excess body weight and a buildup of soft fat tissue in the windpipe. (In fact, it's estimated that more than 70% of sleep apnea patients are overweight.) However, other problems (such as abnormally large tonsils) can also contribute to sleep apnea.

The following people may be at an increased risk for sleep apnea:

  • People who have small airways in their noses, throats, or mouths (sometimes due to the presence of allergies) or other congestion-causing conditions)
  • People with a family history of sleep apnea
  • African-Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders
  • Smokers
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with risk factors for stroke or heart failure

Sleep apnea is also more common in men.

Symptoms

Since many sleep apnea symptoms occur during sleep, it may be difficult to detect the disorder. One of the most common signs of sleep apnea is loud, chronic snoring, often followed by choking or gasping. As sleep apnea progresses, snoring may increase in volume and occur more frequently. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

Other sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings or symptoms of depression
  • A dry throat upon awakening

Lifestyle Changes for Sleep Apnea

There are a number of lifestyle changes recommended by health authorities that can be useful in sleep apnea treatment. These include:

  • Avoiding alcohol and medications that make you sleepy
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Sleeping on your side instead of your back
  • Quitting smoking
  • Trying tongue exercises (orofacial therapy or myofunctional therapy)

Natural Remedies for Sleep Apnea

So far, scientific support for the claim that natural remedies can treat sleep apnea is lacking.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the few types of alternative medicine that shows promise in the management of sleep apnea. However, most of the studies testing acupuncture's effectiveness as a sleep apnea treatment have included only a small number of patients.

In one study published in 2009, for instance, researchers assigned 30 people with obstructive sleep apnea to treatment with three to five acupuncture sessions per week. After 30 sessions, the patients showed significant improvements in factors such as hypoxia (the medical term for the absence of oxygen).

A 2016 review of studies of acupuncture treatment for obstructive sleep apnea found only six randomized controlled trials, but concluded that manual acupuncture and electroacupuncture was effective in improving the apnea/hypopnea index and oxygen saturation as compared with controls. However, four of the six studies were judged to be of high risk of bias.

Due to the lack of larger studies on acupuncture and sleep apnea, it's important to consult your physician before you pursue acupuncture as a treatment for sleep apnea.

Herbs

Although herbs such as passionflower and valerian are sometimes recommended in the treatment of sleep apnea, there's no evidence that any herbal remedy can help treat sleep apnea.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of alternative medicine in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend herbal remedies or supplements for sleep apnea.

You can get tips on using supplements, but if you're considering the use of any form of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

The Importance of Treatment

When left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to a number of serious complications (many of which are due to sudden drops in blood oxygen levels). These complications include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Increased risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and heart failure

Sleep Apnea Treatment

In treating sleep apnea, doctors aim to relieve symptoms and restore regular breathing during sleep. The most effective and common treatments include the use of mouthpieces and breathing devices.

In some rare instances of severe sleep apnea, a tracheostomy may be performed. This entails inserting a plastic tube through the neck into the windpipe. For non-severe cases, another surgical option may be uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), which involves removing the soft palate, uvula, and tonsils.

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Article Sources

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