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Sleep Apnea Solutions

Getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of your overall health, but according to the CDC, a third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended sleep they need. For some Americans, medical conditions, such as breathing disorders, can cause them problems sleeping with sleep apnea being one of the most common sleep-related breathing disorder affecting approximately 39 million U.S. adults.

Sleep apnea, also called sleep-disordered breathing, occurs when your breathing stops or gets very shallow. This can last from a few seconds to minutes and can take place 30 times or more in an hour. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of this disorder and happens when your airways collapse or become blocked during sleep. The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Loud snoring
  • High blood pressure
  • Waking up multiple times per night
  • Trouble focusing

Solutions for Sleep Apnea

For many people with sleep apnea, the most obvious and troublesome symptom is being tired during the day, and they may reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid to help them get more restful sleep. Unfortunately, OTC sleep aids are not recommended for patients with sleep apnea because they do not treat the underlying reason for poor sleep. This is because sleep aids work as sedatives, meaning they can help you feel sleepy, making it easier to fall asleep, but people with sleep apnea don’t get restful sleep due to gaps in breathing while sleeping. Therefore, the daytime fatigue they are experiencing is due to not staying asleep at night and not due to difficulty falling asleep.

Instead of taking a sleep aid, talk to your doctor or advanced practice provider* (APP) about sleep apnea treatment options. Below are some tips you may want to consider incorporating in your daily life to help improve your sleep even if you have sleep apnea.

  1. Consider a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The most common recommendation for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine. There are different types of CPAP masks now available, and you can talk through your options with your care team. CPAP machines have multiple settings to make sleep more comfortable, such as humidifiers, and regular follow up with your care team will allow for more personalization of your settings.
  1. Weight management and regular exercise. Losing excess weight can reduce the severity of sleep apnea. Extra weight can contribute to the blockage of airways during sleep, so maintaining a healthy weight can improve symptoms. Exercise will strengthen your muscles and improve your breathing and has been shown to help you fall asleep quicker and improve your sleep quality.
  1. Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your back can increase the blockage of the airways and increase nighttime awakenings. Sleeping on your side can help to keep your airways open and decrease snoring. TIP: You can try regular pillows or side-sleeping pillows to help maintain a side-sleeping position.
  1. Avoid alcohol and smoking. Drinking alcohol around bedtime can increase the blockage of airways and worsen sleep apnea. Alcohol also disrupts our sleep patterns, making it more difficult to get into phases of deep sleep.

Smoking causes damage and inflammation in the airways which worsens sleep apnea. Within the first 12 months after quitting smoking, your lung health will improve by clearing the mucous and fluid out of your lungs.

  1. Nasal congestion. Talk to your doctor or APP to see if nasal congestion is contributing to your symptoms. Many patients experience swelling and congestion in their nose, leading to worsening sleep apnea symptoms. Nasal sprays, saline, humidifiers and allergy medications may help with nasal congestion.

If you think you may have sleep apnea or are struggling with symptoms from your sleep apnea, talk to your doctor or APP about what lifestyle changes or treatments may work best for you. Improving sleep apnea is important for reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. In addition, you can see improvements in your sleep quality, boosts in daytime energy, and an overall better quality of life and well-being.

*An advanced practice provider is defined as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

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