Have you ever tried going on a camping trip with some friends? It’s fun right? You enjoy the great outdoors, sing a few songs while toasting some S’mores, and just as you’re about to fall asleep, someone… snores. Yup, there’s always that one person who snores loud enough to wake everyone, and then goes quiet, only to start snoring again after a few seconds. It’s scary when they suddenly stop snoring and all you hear is total silence because you begin to wonder if they’re okay or if you need to wake them up so they can breathe properly. This usually happens when someone has sleep apnea.
There are two forms of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea which is often caused by problems in the nervous system, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which is more common. People with OSA have obstructed upper airways-because their throat muscles, that are responsible for keeping the airway stiff, begin to relax, collapse, and eventually block breathing. When this happens, the brain notices the dip in the blood’s oxygen levels and wakes them up so them can start breathing normally again. Normally, an “apnea” or breath cessation lasts for ten to twenty seconds and happens twenty to thirty times for every sixty minutes.
People with sleep apnea have no recollection of these things when they wake up because it happens quickly. Because of this, the condition is often neglected and undiagnosed. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, over twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea have lowered libido, find it very difficult to concentrate, urinate often at night, and are very forgetful. If you or anyone you know experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that, when not given immediate treatment, may lead to more complicated health ramifications. Sleep apnea causes the oxygen levels to drop, which signals the body to discharge stress hormones that strains the heart, affects the body’s metabolism, makes your body resist insulin, and causes you to miss out on the benefits of a good night’s sleep such as: improved immunity and memory, muscle and tissue repair, and other rejuvenating effects.
Research shows that when sleep apnea is left undiagnosed for a long time, the chances of getting high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes, obesity, diabetes, depression, and other serious health conditions are increased, explains Ralph Pascualy, MD, author of the book, Snoring and Sleep Apnea, and medical director of Sleep Medicine Associates at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. According to a John Hopkins study published in 2009, sleep apnea increases the risk of premature death by 2%.
The good thing is, there are holistic ways to treat sleep apnea. These methods are backed by science and research, so no need to worry if it’s okay to do them or if they’re effective. It’s important to note, however, that there are different factors that cause sleep apnea, so the effects of each method may vary. For Pascualy, it’s important to find the right combination for every individual. Try some or all of these methods, combine them, and see which one will work best for you.
Holistic Methods to Cure Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
1. Stop smoking. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the nicotine from cigarettes causes the upper airways to swell, and this leads to sleep apnea.
2. Lose weight. A 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that weight loss helps lessen the chances of sleep apnea from happening. This study involved 260 diabetic and obese participants who were suffering from sleep apnea. The weight loss does not have to be drastic; as a matter of fact, just losing about five to ten pounds helps improve the condition.
3. Quit drinking. Alcohol is a sedative that deepens sleep and relaxes the muscles which makes them collapse easily, explains Pascualy. Alcohol makes it difficult for you to breathe which then makes it hard for the brain to wake you up and as a result, the apneas are more severe and frequent. As much as possible, steer clear from alcohol six hours before bedtime. For the same reasons, keep from drinking sleeping pills and ask for allergy or headache medications from your doctor.
4. Exercise. According to a Sleep study conducted in 2009, a four-month workout program which consisted of thee sixty-minute weekly workout sessions dramatically decreased the frequency of sleep apnea. Exercise improves the functions of the nerves and blood vessels and regularizes breathing.
5. Don’t sleep on your back. When you sleep on your back, you make it easier for the tissues and your tongue to block the air passage, according to Pascualy. One of the strategies that people with sleep apnea do to keep from sleeping on their back is by putting a tennis ball in the back pocket of their pajamas. Another thing that you can do to keep this from happening is to elevate your head by adding more pillows.
6. Control inflammation. It’s normal to experience inflammation when you cut your finger by accident or when you have colds. This is because your body’s immune system is busy curing the wound or fighting the infection. In some cases however, when your diet includes foods that are high in fat and sugar, or when you live a sedentary lifestyle, you may eventually suffer from chronic inflammation, which is connected to sleep apnea. In the July 2009 issue of Thorax, it was written that inflammation affects nerve functions, especially the hypoglossal nerve which holds the tongue and keeps it from blocking the air passage. Stay away from fats that cause inflammation refined grains, excess sugar, trans fats, chronic stress, cigarette smoke, and char-grilled foods.
7. Acupuncture. According to a study conducted by Yueyang Hospital of Intergrated Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine in Shanghai back in 2009, thirty acupuncture sessions (four to five sessions weekly) decreases the frequency of sleep apnea. Furthermore, a placebo-controlled study published in Sleep Medicine back in 2007 revealed that weekly acupuncture treatments for ten straight weeks improved the severity of sleep apnea by 79%. By clearing the blockages form the body’s qi and improving the flow of energy, acupuncture restored the healthy functions of the muscles and nerves controlling the air passage.
8. Clear those sinuses. If you find that your nose is occasionally stuffy, look around you to identify what’s causing your allergies. It may be dust, pollen, pet dander, or it may be something in your diet like mucus-producing foods (banana), wheat, or dairy. If can’t trace the potential allergens, you may seek the help of an allergy doctor or, you can also keep track of the food you eat, the type of environment you’re in, and the levels of congestion. You may also want to try elimination diets wherein you remove suspicious foods for a few weeks to see if it lessens the stuffiness. Once you figure out what the allergens are, try to avoid them. According to Pascualy, you can clear your sinuses before going to bed at night by using saline sprays or neti pots to rinse them.
9. Keep those throat muscles strong. Research shows that the muscles in our air passage are quite similar to the muscles in our legs and arms. Without enough exercise and as we age, these muscles become weaker. As a result, the airway structure fails to stay in its proper anatomical position and eventually collapses, making it difficult to breathe. According to Fong, a former snorer, says that by toning, re-educating, and strengthening the muscles in our airways (these include the jaw, tongue, soft palate and lips), you alleviate, and eventually eliminate sleep apnea.
Fong created some exercises to help rebuild your throat muscles. One of these exercises involves sticking your tongue to the floor of your mouth while keeping your lips closed for five to ten minutes, two times a day. By simply doing this, says Fong, most of his patients’ sleep apnea disappeared within the first thirty days of doing these exercises. Playing the didgeridoo is also highly recommended remedy for people with sleep apnea. According to a study published in BMJ back in 2006, playing the didgeridoo had lessened the frequency of snoring and sleep apnea among people who had moderate apnea. Playing the long, wooden wind instrument which hails from Australia requires inhaling though the nose and exhaling through the mouth. This helps retain or rebuild the muscle sin the upper-airway.