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?
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.