There are a variety of treatments available for sleep apnea, but what works for you will depend on the severity of your problem and your commitment to treatment. Making the following lifestyle changes will help you get a good night’s sleep.
1. Keep that airway toned
Avoid alcohol, sedatives, sleeping pills, and any medication that relaxes the central nervous system, making it more difficult to keep your throat open while sleeping.
2. Shed pounds
Work with your doctor on a weight-loss plan if you are overweight. Even a small drop in weight can improve your symptoms. Unfortunately, sleep apnea can make losing weight more difficult because it interferes with leptin and ghrelin, two brain chemicals that signal the body that it’s full.
3. Quit smoking
Add sleep apnea to the long list of reasons why you should kick the habit. If you have sleep apnea, your body is hungry for oxygen. Unfortunately, smoking will reduce the amount of oxygen available.
4. Sleep on your side
You’re more likely to snore loudly when you sleep on your back. Try special pillows that make back sleeping impossible or at least uncomfortable. For example, you can wedge a pillow stuffed with tennis balls behind your back to make rolling over unpleasant.
5. See a sleep specialist
If your apnea is moderate to severe or you’ve made lifestyle changes and you still have symptoms of sleep apnea, then you need to see a sleep specialist who can observe and evaluate your sleep and help you find the best solution for you and your problem. A sleep doctor will check your mouth, nose, and throat and make a recording of what happens with your breathing while you sleep. This may require an overnight stay at a sleep center.
Often, sleep specialists recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. With CPAP you wear a face mask over your nose that blows pressurized air into your airway to keep it open while you sleep. However, this is not a long-term solution: Sleep apnea will return as soon as you stop relying on CPAP.
Many people avoid seeking professional help for sleep apnea because they know about CPAP and fear using it, says Rochelle Goldberg, M.D., president of the American Sleep Apnea Association. But the treatment works well and can be truly lifesaving for some people. Many patients discover that they finally achieve their best sleep in years once they start using the device.
To help those with loud snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea, there is a mouthpiece that holds the jaw and tongue in a position that aids breathing. It’s the second line of therapy for most patients. While it’s not as successful as CPAP, the mouthpiece is an option for people who aren’t comfortable using the breathing mask. It’s also more portable, so people who travel frequently often prefer it to CPAP.
Surgery is also an option for some. The type of surgery will depend on the severity of the problem, as well as the underlying cause. Your sleep center may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat doctor for an evaluation.
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