Face it, no one likes a snorer. You may have an outstanding personality, but snoring is not typically considered a desirable trait in a housemate. Add to that the fact that snoring is often associated with sleep apnea and sleep apnea is associated with all manner of complications including heart disease and heart disease is associated with an early death – well, you just might want to do something about that snoring.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a type of breathing disorder. The most well-known form of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which involves the upper airways collapsing as you sleep. This closure can be partial or complete, hindering the flow of air as you breathe. Turns out oxygen is important for pretty much all bodily functions, so, amongst other conditions, untreated sleep apnea has been associated with:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Irregular heart beat (arrhythmia)
- Kidney disease
In addition to these complications of OSA, sleep apnea also prevents you from getting a good night’s rest as the body keeps rousing itself to remind you that you need to breathe. This in turn results in increased fatigue during the day, difficulties with memory and concentration, irritability, and depression and anxiety.
A prominent symptom of OSA is loud snoring and gasping for air during sleep. You may also wake with a dry mouth from all that labored breathing overnight, as well as a headache.
Natural Lifestyle Remedies for Sleep Apnea
Mild sleep apnea (classified according to the number of episodes of breathing disturbances during sleep) can often be managed with simple lifestyle modifications. Moderate to severe cases of OSA will need professional treatment by a physician, such as a sleep doctor or ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist.
Before resorting to the effective-but-uncomfortable CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure), here are some simple lifestyle modifications you can try for managing mild obstructive sleep apnea once given the all-clear by your doctor.
Manage your weight.
Obesity and being overweight is associated with an increased risk of OSA. The excess fat tissue around the neck causes the airways to collapse, blocking the flow of oxygen. This being said, even people who fall under “normal” bodyweight can suffer from OSA, so losing weight is not necessarily a miracle cure for sleep apnea but may help to reduce its severity.
Reduce alcohol intake and quit smoking.
Cigarette smoke can cause the upper airways to become irritated and swollen, which exacerbates OSA. The chemicals contained in cigarettes are also generally detrimental to the quality of your sleep. Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with floppier airway muscles and so increases the risk of snoring and OSA. If abstaining from alcohol is just not for you, you can still consider limiting alcohol to a couple of drinks a day and avoid any alcohol within a few hours of bedtime.
Adjust your sleeping position.
Sleeping on your back may be associated with worsened snoring and OSA because the tongue can fall backwards and block the airways. This can potentially be avoided by lying on your side instead or sleeping with your head and upper body slightly propped up on an incline. Arranging a few pillows can help to keep you in the desired position while you sleep.
Regular physical activity is good for everything, including OSA. In addition to helping shed any excess pounds that might be contributing to snoring, physical exercise is known to boost energy and mood as well as improve the quality of your sleep and reduce your overall risk of sleep apnea. The current recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
Check the side effects of your medications.
Some drugs are associated with OSA as they cause drowsiness, slow down brain activity, or cause the throat muscles to over-relax. Some medicines known to contribute to OSA include benzodiazepines (often prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, or seizures), barbiturates (for seizures), antihistamines (for allergies), antidepressants (for depression, anxiety, and insomnia), and opiates (for pain). If you suspect any of these medications are exacerbating your OSA, your doctor may be able to prescribe you an alternative drug.
Treat any nasal congestion.
Managing a stuffy nose can help to lessen your mild sleep apnea symptoms, though isn’t likely to fix it completely. You can consider a humidifier to address dry air causing irritation to the airways, or take over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays.
Healthy Sleep Habits
Getting into a good bedtime routine won’t fix OSA but it can help to manage the symptoms. You know yourself best, but some bedtime tips that may be helpful include:
- Getting enough physical exercise during the day
- Aim to get to bed around the same time every night
- Avoid dramatic changes to your bedtime on weekends versus weekdays
- If falling asleep at night is a problem, try to avoid naps during the day
- Avoid digital screens within an hour of bedtime
When to See a Doctor
All suspected cases of sleep apnea should be seen by a doctor first, even if you intend to manage yourself with natural home remedies. OSA is more than noisy snoring, it’s a serious condition linked to the possibility of an early demise.
After a proper medical assessment, your doctor can advise whether it’s safe to manage your sleep apnea symptoms with lifestyle modifications. If not, he or she can recommend a more appropriate intervention, such as a CPAP machine or surgery to remove enlarged tonsils and adenoids.