Natural Remedies for Sleep Apnea

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.

Physiotherapist Doing Acupuncture On The Back
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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 is central sleep apnea, which results from miscommunication between your breathing muscles and the brain region responsible for controlling breathing.


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. Although this association may be in part due to an increased risk of obesity in these groups.
  • People who smoke
  • People with high blood pressure
  • People with risk factors for stroke or heart failure
  • People with untreated hypothyroidism
  • People with acromegaly

Sleep apnea is also more common in men.


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 many lifestyle changes recommended by healthcare professionals 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
  • 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 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, 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 considered to be at 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.


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 this sleep disorder.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and since 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. And supplements may contain contaminants, with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifying over 700 supplements between 2007 and 2017 containing one or more unlisted, and sometimes banned, drugs.

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

If you're considering using any form of alternative medicine, talk with your doctor 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 heartbeat
  • 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 such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

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.

Another surgical option is a Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, in which tissue that may include uvula, soft palate, and tonsils, is removed to allow for more airspace. More recently, less invasive procedures have been developed including maxillomandibular advancement that moves the upper and lower jaw forward to allow for greater airspace.

A hypoglossal nerve stimulator has been approved for use as well. Here a device is implanted in your chest wall and connected with a lead to the nerve innervating the tongue, causing the tongue to contract, and move out of the way with inspiration.

A nasal expiratory positive airway pressure device can also be tried in treating your sleep apnea. This entails small valve-like devices being attached to the nostrils that open with inspiration and close with expiration. Unlike CPAP, where positive pressure is given in both inspiration and expiration, this creates positive pressure in the airway during expiration. Although it usually does not completely eliminate sleep apnea, it has the advantage of being highly portable and might be a good option to try for someone unable to tolerate CPAP.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Sleep apnea.

  2. Camacho M, Certal V, Abdullatif J, et al. Myofunctional therapy to treat obstructive sleep apnea: a systematic review and meta-analysisSleep. 2015;38(5):669–675. doi:10.5665/sleep.4652

  3. Xu J, Niu YX, Piao XM, Liu Z, Wu LZ, Liang RL. Effect of acupuncture on blood oxygen saturation in patients of obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu.

  4. Lv ZT, Jiang WX, Huang JM, Zhang JM, Chen AM. The clinical effect of acupuncture in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:8792167. doi:10.1155/2016/8792167

  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Passionflower.

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.