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Steps to Better Sleep

Steps to Better Sleep

For Individuals with Sleep Apnea

Here are some science-backed alternative options to help those with sleep apnea. Bear in mind, however, that since the root causes behind sleep apnea vary, a remedy that cures one person might do nothing for another. You’ll need to find the combination that works for you with some or all of these, and see which works best for you.

  • Trim down. Shedding about 10 percent of your body weight can send sleep apnea into total or near-total remission, according to a 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine study involving more than 260 obese, diabetic participants with sleep apnea. In fact, losing just 5 or 10 pounds improves symptoms, while gaining 5 to 10 pounds worsens them.
  • Avoid alcohol. As a sedative, alcohol deepens sleep, relaxing the muscles and making them more prone to collapse. Alcohol depresses breathing and makes it harder for your brain to wake you from sleep, so the apneas become more frequent and severe. Avoid alcohol six hours or more before sleep. For similar reasons, avoid sleeping pills, and talk to your doctor about any headache or allergy medications.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarettes increase swelling in the upper airway and thereby exacerbate sleep apnea, says the National Sleep Foundation.
  • Clear your sinuses. If your nose is constantly stuffy, identify potential allergens in your environment (pollen, dust, pet dander) or intolerances in your diet (dairy, wheat, or mucus-producing foods like bananas). An allergy doctor can screen for sensitivities, or you can keep a log of the foods you eat, your environment, and congestion levels. You might also try elimination diets, in which you cut out suspect foods for a couple of weeks, and see if the stuffiness eases.
  • Quell inflammation. Low levels of inflammation are normal: When you have a cold or cut your finger, the immune system produces inflammatory cells to fight infection or heal the wound. However, for reasons not entirely understood, diets high in fat, sugar, or processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle can cause chronic inflammation. This has been linked to sleep apnea, as revealed by several new studies, including one in the July 2009 issue of the journal Thorax.
  • Strengthen your throat muscles. The muscles of the airway are like the muscles in the arm or leg. They can get weak without proper exercise or with age. When that happens, the airway structures don’t stay in their proper anatomical position and collapse into the air passageway. By strengthening, toning, and re-educating the airway musculature, including the tongue, jaw, lips, and soft palate, you can alleviate, or even eliminate, the condition.
  • Try acupuncture. A 2009 study at the Yueyang Hospital of Integrated Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine, Shanghai, found that three to five acupuncture sessions a week, for a total of 30 sessions, reduced the number of apneas each night. Additionally, in a 2007 placebo-controlled study in Sleep Medicine, one acupuncture treatment a week (for 10 weeks) improved sleep apnea’s severity by 79 percent. It’s thought that by removing blockages in the body’s qi, or energy flow, acupuncture restores healthy function to the nerves and muscles controlling the upper airway.
  • Sleep on your side. Lying on your back makes it easier for the tongue and other tissues to fall back and block the airway. Elevating your head with extra pillows may also help.
  • Get moving. In a May 2009 sleep study, a four-month exercise program (three 60-minute sessions per week) significantly reduced the severity of participants’ obstructive sleep apnea, most likely by improving the function of blood vessels and nerves—including those that regulate breathing.


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