6 Natural Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea and snoring

Familiar with the term ‘sawing logs’? That lovely grating noise that indicates someone is completely knocked out in what we believe (oftentimes mistakenly) to be deep sleep?

Not so!

Snoring can be a sign of a specific sleep disorder known as sleep apnea (from the Greek apnoea, meaning absence of respiration). Said condition tends to be marked by a frequent shallowness (or sometimes complete cessation) of breathing during sleep which interrupts rest potentially hundreds of times per night. The direct impact?of this is frequent disruptions to one’s sleep rhythm, which can often result in serious health?consequences?over time. There are a number of ways to deal with this condition, but in this post we’re going to focus on 6 specific natural treatments for sleep apnea.

A Little Bit of History…

Interestingly, persons who may have read Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers may recall one of his major characters (named banally as Joe) ?coming down with ‘Pickwickian Syndrome’–so named after?the protagonist, Samuel Pickwick. Joe was a pretty big guy (if you get my meaning) and he was always hungry, but more importantly, always tired. He was thought of as a natural curiosity because of his propensity?to fall asleep at the worst times, and also to snore…really loudly! Incidentally, the name ‘Pickwickian Syndrome’ was not given by Dickens but by actual doctors studying a businessman in the 1950s who had symptoms very similar to those of sleep apnea. At that?time, doctors thought that obesity was the root cause. As medicine became progressively elaborate, it was actually found that obesity, while it could be a contributing factor, was not the only issue at hand–which caused ‘Pickwickian Syndrome’ to be subclassed as a related disorder known as Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS,?something we’ll talk about in a future post).

Will everyone that has this condition know about it? Absolutely not. Studies show that 2-4% of Americans who have the condition may not be aware of it, and this in an affected population of nearly 18 million persons. That’s between 360,000 ad 720,000 persons, quite a large number.

Causes and Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Image courtesy of AlabamaSleepClinic.com

The major cause for sleep apnea is related to the change in tone of the muscles/tissues at the back of the throat during sleep. As we sleep, these muscles (usually the tongue and soft palate) relax and sag backwards into the airway, progressively narrowing it and making breathing difficult. Naturally, here’s where the snoring comes in! In some cases, the muscles collapse completely which then blocks the windpipe. That event starts a cascade of other processes, starting with the brain sensing a sudden drop in blood levels of oxygen, a shot of adrenalin into the bloodstream and a literal ‘jump start’ of the body into a partially wakeful state (usually resulting in choking or gasping). All of this gets us breathing again…until the cycle commences anew. Be warned…this can happen anywhere between 20 and 60 times an hour!

So…what provokes this kind of thing? Commonly agreed risk factors and contributing causes for sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight/obese
  • Having upper airway?abnormalities (eg. nasal polyps)
  • High blood pressure
  • Large neck size (or large tonsils or tongue)
  • Small jawbone (less room for the tongue so it tends to get pushed back into the airway easily)
  • Use of sedatives

Effects of Sleep Apnea

Ill old man

The effects of sleep apnea may vary widely, but the common consensus is IT’S?NOT GOOD FOR YOU. Here are 5 ways that sleep apnea can change your life for the worse:

  1. Headaches – Due to the lack of rest and also the decreased blood levels of oxygen experienced during the night, morning headaches are common in persons with sleep apnea. These can range from mild to being severely debilitating. Note that concentration and memory are also affected which can lead to heightened confusion and a decrease in the ability to make independent decisions.
  2. Depression – The relationship between sleep apnea and depression is complex, but they are indubitably linked. Oddly enough, depression can cause sleep issues as well (which is why insomnia is common amongst depressives). Either which way, continuous lack of sleep will almost always affect one’s mood negatively which sets the stage for more serious psychological effects.
  3. Gastric reflux – Remember the narrowing of the airway we spoke about earlier? Trying to breathe through an increasingly smaller air passage is like drinking juice from a very narrow straw. It creates a kind of ‘negative pressure’ at the top of the throat, which can also pull digestive juices upward from the top of the stomach into?the oesophagus. This results in a feeling of heartburn commonly associated with gastric reflux, and can be damaging to the upper areas of the gut over time.
  4. Stroke – The risk for stroke doubles in men with sleep apnea, and women aren’t out of the ballpark in terms of danger either. Since sleep apnea increases blood pressure, which may present alongside other complications such as obesity, it’s no wonder that this possibly fatal condition falls high up in the ranks.
  5. Heart Failure – It is sometimes said that poor?sleep can take years off your life. In the case of your heart that is very true. Your heart becomes very stressed during episodes of low oxygen, which means it has to work harder for longer. If you’re sleeping, ideally your heartbeat should be slow (or even slightly irregular as in the case of REM sleep). An overworked heart is never a good thing, it may become enlarged and even less efficient at its job. And eventually…overworked muscles fail.

What options exist for treatment?

Girl exercising

Several options exist, and?may include surgical interventions and mechanical assistance (eg. CPAP/BIPAP machines), but there are also completely natural ways to help?treat the condition. We’ve included 6 of them?below:

  1. Drop those extra pounds! – It’s been found that persons who are obese are 4 times more likely to have sleep apnea and nightly respiratory interruptions. Getting to a healthy weight can make a huge difference, and can also carry other health benefits as well. Exercise and dieting are very important in this regard, and call for a disciplined attitude towards one’s own health. With perseverance, this goal can be achieved!
  2. Change your sleep position – Sleeping routinely on one’s back has been known to worsen sleep apnea (it’s a lot easier for those soft tissues to fall backwards into the airway). Try instead to sleep on your side or stomach to help mitigate this concern. Additionally, make sure your pillow is not set too high or too low, as the position of your head and neck can influence airflow.
  3. Investigate herbal remedies and supplements – Lavender and the california poppy are two fairly well-known herbs that can help mitigate sleep disorders and corresponding ill effects. Both can be used as perfecty natural relaxants and are often used to treat anxiety, mild insomnia, as well as sleep apnea. It goes without saying therefore, that they not only contribute to sleep but also give you better quality rest at night. It’s also good to look into vitamins and minerals that can improve sleep, such as magnesium (which deals with muscle regulation) and vitamins C/D (which can repair damage to cells and reduce symptoms of sleep apnea respectively).
  4. Use a humidifier – A humidifier can help to decrease congestion and encourage more natural breathing throughout the night. If you are frequently troubled by sinus issues and nightly congestion, you are also more likely to snore and/or breathe through your mouth (the latter of which causes dryness and possibly sore throat). Be careful however, as too much humidity can also cause your sinuses to overproduce, which may cause a runny nose in the morning. It should be mentioned that some persons utilise aromatic oils that can serve as decongestants (eg. eucalyptus) in conjunction with their humidifiers–this has been done with varying degrees of success.
  5. Avoid sedatives and alcohol – Sedatives and alcohol can both decrease muscle tone at the back of the throat, which contributes directly to sleep apnea occurrence. Avoiding both before bed is definitely advised…especially if you already have breathing problems!
  6. Toss that cigarette! – Tobacco is known to cause inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway which manifests as swelling. The logic here is pretty apparent: swelling in the upper airway causes a partial blockage of the windpipe which?then?leads to worsened sleep apnea episodes. So kick that habit to the curb–the cost to your health isn’t worth it.

What’s puzzling is that natural treatments are oftentimes not the first to be recommended, despite the fact that many are effective. That said however, they can be perfectly suitable adjunctive treatments even in the presence of other types of interventions. I do hope you’ve found this to be informative!

Do you or someone you know have?sleep apnea? How have you (or they) been coping? I’d be glad to hear about your experience.

Be blessed.

–Josh

6 Comments

  1. robert Lawrence

    Hi,

    I have had snoring issues before but for me it definitely only happens when I sleep on my back. I actually prefer to sleep on my side or stomach so that’s a good thing but every now and then I sleep on my back and boom….I snore.

    The problem is that sleeping on my side and stomach can sometimes result in my shoulders getting sore from me resting on them too much. So I’m just trying to figure out what is the healthiest position to sleep in? If there is such a thing.

    I feel like it would be harder to sleep on your side or stomach as you get older which is also a concern for me.

    Cheers,
    Robert

    Reply
    1. admin (Post author)

      Thanks Robert, that’s a terrific question, and one which doesn’t really have a definite answer. Personally, I’m not a big fan of stomach or side sleeping because of the issues that can arise (back pain, numbness in the arm being slept on, etc). Additionally, sleeping on one’s back can actually increase the likelihood of sleep apnea development. Not everyone has problems with those though, but for speaking from my viewpoint, spinal safety and alignment is paramount. If you’re a back sleeper with snoring issues (like me), you could always try a mechanical intervention like a snore guard or anti-snore device, preferably one with a tongue suppressor. Combined with a great orthopaedic pillow, that should allow you to get great sleep without having to worry about back pain. As you get older, if sleeping on your back isn’t working out, then I would certainly recommend sleeping on your side (alternating of course to relieve the soreness).

      I’ve seen some interesting approaches to resolving physical problems associated with sleeping positions so I may just do a more comprehensive post on this in future. Would that make sense from your perspective?

      Reply
  2. Wendy

    I just read your article and had to leave a comment. Your advice is 100% bang on! My boyfriend and I were both overweight, okay obese. Over the last 4 months, we have lost 75 pounds between us. And we have noticed many unexpected and positive things that improved with our sleep. First of all, Brian doesn’t snore anymore. He used to be so bad that at times I would sleep on the couch. Also we now both can sleep on our stomachs. We were not able to do this in the past. It really is amazing. So your tip #1 is very true. Weight loss makes a huge impact on how well you sleep.

    Reply
    1. admin (Post author)

      Thanks Wendy, I’m glad you liked it. It’s also good that you folks stuck to a program with so much dedication! Very impressive. Recently, I had to lose 20 pounds because of the influence my weight was having on my back muscles. Consequently, my sleep also improved so we are in the same boat 🙂 As an aside, an article about sleeping positions is also on its way so I hope you’ll find value in that one as well.

      Reply
  3. Mark

    I love your page about sleep Apnea because I am a person that suffers from this. I am constantly tossing and turning while trying to sleep. I really liked the section about the humidifier how it can can diminish clog and energize more regular breathing for the duration of the night. On the off chance that you are often agitated by sinus issues and daily clog, you are likewise more prone to wheeze and/or inhale through your mouth (the last of which causes dryness and potentially sore throat). I also like the warning to be cautious as an excessive amount of dampness can likewise bring about your sinuses to overproduce, which may bring about a runny nose in the morning. I believe my sleep apnea is due to trouble breathing at night. I will be purchasing a humidifier as soon as possible. Thank you for the wonderful information.

    Reply
    1. Joshua (Post author)

      Thanks Mark, I’m really glad that you found value in the information! It may also be good to have a comprehensive sleep study down to pin down other matters regarding your sleep hygiene and circumstances. Take care and sleep well!

      Reply

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