This post provides self-help tips and lifestyle changes to reduce sleep apnea symptoms, including weight loss, avoiding sleeping pills and using saline to clear nasal passages.
Mild to moderate sleep apnea symptoms can often be improved with some self-help techniques and lifestyle changes. Weight loss, changes in sleep position, and avoidance of substances that promote airway closure can positively affect your sleep apnea.
A word of caution. While many of the self-help tips here do improve sleep apnea symptoms, always follow your sleep physician’s advice. Successful weight loss does not mean you can unplug your CPAP, toss your sleep apnea dental device, or cancel that upcoming sleep apnea surgery. Lifestyle changes are additional sleep apnea treatments that improve the efficiency of your existing treatments.
Weight Loss and Sleep Apnea
No one really wants to be told this, but by far the best sleep apnea self-help strategy is to maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight equals extra fat tissue in the throat and neck, which places pressure on the airway, increasing the chance of airway closure and sleep apnea.
Don’t fret. You don’t need to slim down to the shape you were in your teenage years (only a few, universally despised individuals are capable of that feat!). If you’re overweight, a weight loss of only ten percent reduces the frequency of sleep apnea and promotes a better night’s sleep. And that ten percent weight loss also improves heart function, lowers your risk for diabetes, and provides a host of other health benefits, so it’s one of the most important lifestyles changes you can make.
Sleeping Pills, Tranquilizers, and Alcohol
What do alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquilizers and many OTC cold medications have in common? They all relax the throat muscles; the last thing you want happening if you live with sleep apnea.
Avoidance of these substances is the best self-help strategy in this instance. Treating sleep apnea successfully should improve your quality of sleep, so sleeping pills may not be needed anymore (regular use of sleeping pills ultimately disrupts your sleep cycle even more, and carries the risk of sleep pill dependency, so long term use of sleeping pills is strongly discouraged by health professionals).
Your doctor may be able to suggest alternative medication to tranquilizers, including insomnia hypnosis techniques. Be sure doctors and health professionals know you have sleep apnea before they prescribe medication; many prescriptions and over the counter medications can relax the throat muscles. Sleep apnea also complicates the use of sedatives and anaesthetics which can cause complications during dental and medical work.
Self-help for sleep apnea doesn’t mean you have to give up alcohol entirely. Avoid alcohol for at least three hours before bedtime, and don’t overindulge. Even if you don’t have sleep apnea alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns.
Quit Smoking for Sleep Apnea Self Help
Easier said than done, as any smoker can attest, but quitting smoking is one of the healthiest lifestyles changes you can make for both sleep apnea symptoms and a host of other medical problems. Smoke irritates the throat lining and causes the nasal passages to swell, both of which can contribute to sleep apnea.
Sleeping Position and Sleep Apnea
Changing your sleeping position can affect night-time breathing and sleep apnea symptoms. Sleeping on your back can worsen sleep apnea, as gravity forces your tongue and soft palate back into your throat, impairing breathing. Sleeping on your side prevents this and reduces sleep apnea symptoms.
Changing long-established sleeping positions isn’t easy: your body feels most comfortable with the sleeping position it’s most used to. The key word here is comfortable. Sew a tennis ball into the back of your pyjama top and sleeping on your back suddenly isn’t comfortable at all!
Saline Sprays and Nasal Passages
Allergies or colds cause congestion in the nasal passages, interfering with breathing and encouraging sleep apnea. Using saline sprays can help keep the nasal passages open while you sleep.
Sleep apnea symptoms worsen when you’re tired, so getting enough sleep is important. Go to bed at approximately the same time every night and get up at a regular time in the morning. Most people need eight hours of sleep a night to be properly rested.
Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute in any way for care and treatment by a qualified health professional.