Machine-Free Sleep Apnea Solutions

Do you often find yourself waking up, gasping for air in the middle of the night? Does your partner complain that you snore through the night? Or, maybe, have there been instances where you’ve woken yourself up with a loud snore?

If yes to any of the above, know that you’re not alone. Many Americans snore each and every night, and for some, this is actually due to sleep apnea: a condition that causes difficulty breathing while asleep, leading to snoring, gasping for air, and more. And did you know that sleep apnea is different in women as up to 18% do not even snore.

Sleep apnea occurs when breathing periodically halts or becomes ineffective—keeping you from getting enough oxygen—during sleep. It affects many Americans: it’s estimated that 30 million adults in the US suffer from various forms of sleep apnea!

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Individuals suffering from sleep apnea may experience symptoms like:

  • Snoring: This is the most common and notorious symptom of sleep apnea. Snoring can be your body struggling to get enough oxygen at night.
  • Struggling for air at night: One step further than snoring is waking up and struggling to get enough air. You may feel yourself gasping or even choking in your sleep, waking up feeling out of breath.
  • Daytime fatigue: Because sleep apnea disturbs sleep so much, individuals with sleep apnea often struggle with fatigue during the day.
  • Dry mouth: With an excess of breathing through the mouth through the night, people with sleep apnea may wake up with a dry mouth. For some, this also extends into a morning headache.

With disturbed sleep, you can also see symptoms like mood changes, memory issues, attention difficulties, ongoing insomnia, and impotence. As sleep is vital to our health, it can have widespread ramifications when frequently disturbed.

These symptoms, however, can arise from one of the three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex. Your healthcare provider can help you determine which is affecting you.

What are the different types of sleep apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when the airways are obstructed by throat muscles that become overly-relaxed during sleep. This causes difficulties with breathing as the airway has narrowed, making it difficult to get air in. Of all forms of sleep apnea, OSA is the most common.

Occasionally, sleep apnea occurs because of problematic signaling from the brain to the muscles responsible for breath. In this case, Central Sleep Apnea is the culprit. With CSA, you may see people not breathing for brief moments in their sleep.

When someone’s brain struggles to send the proper signals and the throat muscles relax to obstruct the airways, they are said to have Complex Sleep Apnea. This is essentially a mix of the two.

How does sleep apnea develop?

There are a number of theories which suggest the different mechanisms that drive the development of sleep apnea.

One of the most common connections to sleep apnea is obesity. Particularly in OSA, the additional fat deposits in the neck and upper airways may constrict the throat, leading to the obstruction that leads to complications with breathing. The relationship is complicated, however, as the symptoms of OSA—decreased mood, ongoing fatigue, increased appetite – also contribute to obesity, creating a vicious cycle.

Hormones and endocrine disorders also seem to play a role in the development of OSA. Difficulty sleeping can disturb hormone levels, and in the reverse, hormonal imbalances can disturb sleep. Of special interest are the ways sex hormones like progesterone and androgens can affect sleep quality. Individuals with imbalanced levels of these hormones may be at greater risk to develop sleep apnea, though the exact way in which hormones affect sleep issues like OSA is unclear.

Interestingly, one study looked at a cohort of children at risk for asthma to see how duration of breastfeeding may affect later development of sleep apnea. The researchers found that children who were breastfed for longer than one month had a lower risk of snoring and associated apneas. It’s important to note that this study is only correlational and it’s unclear how breastfeeding may protect children from sleep apneas; however, it does present evidence that breastfeeding can be protective in families where respiratory difficulties are common.

How can I manage my sleep apnea?

If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea by a medical professional, or if you know you snore more than you’d like, there are a variety of strategies you can employ to improve your quality of sleep.

When treating sleep apnea, the image of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine may immediately come to mind. This includes a mouthpiece that looks similar to an oxygen mask, a tube, and the base itself, which helps push oxygen into your airways.

For many, CPAP machines can be frustrating to use and cumbersome, but also helpful in improving their sleep quantity and quality. If it is recommended by your healthcare professional, please continue using it as recommended. In addition to CPAP, however, there are other strategies you can consider. We’ve listed three of them below:

1. Add two new vitamins to your routine: Vitamin D & Omega-3s

Vitamin D & Omega-3 fatty acids have both been linked to improved sleep quality and energy levels during the day.

A correlation has been found between vitamin D levels and sleep apnea development: in one study, the individuals with the lowest vitamin D levels had the highest chance of having sleep apnea. There could be a variety of factors influencing this relationship, but evidence has connected low levels of vitamin D to worsening of OSA and other sleep disturbances. For vitamin D, here’s an option from Nature Made.

It’s hypothesized that omega-3 supplements may combat inflammatory agents like TNF-a, as well as hormonal imbalances, which contribute to OSA. For supplements, here’s a high-dose omega-3 supplement that’s been third-party tested.

If you want to try a different product that doesn’t force you to swallow giant capsules (or worried about rancidity of the oils), you may want to consider fatty15 – a clinically-proven product with benefits like Omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Try mouth taping at night

A new online trend is mouth taping: wearing tape, or another type of patch, over your mouth to prevent snoring and mouth breathing. The overall goal is to encourage breathing through the nose during sleep.

For those who struggle with snoring and mild OSA, one study found that mouth taping successfully shifted breathing through the nose. The participants had more successful breathing through the night with less periods of lapsed breathing. It’s important to note this was a pilot study with a small number of participants, and more research is needed to fully understand the propensity of mouth taping to affect sleep apnea.

If you’re curious about trying mouth taping, speak with your healthcare provider about it as an option.

3. Address excess weight with an anti-inflammatory diet

Because hormonal disturbances and obesity are two major risk factors for sleep apnea, creating a diet and lifestyle that supports a healthy weight and hormonal balance is key. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on nutrient-rich foods that actively fight excess inflammation. To follow an anti-inflammatory diet, consider these steps:

  • Avoid highly processed, packaged, sugary foods, like: white bread, cookies, fried chicken, fast food, sweets, etc.
  • Include more high-fiber vegetables and healthy fats in your diet: kale, avocados, apples, nuts, celery, wild-caught fish, and more

We’ve written more about healthy food choices in this blog here. Opting for nutrient-rich, healthy foods can be a potent step towards improving your sleep and overall health.

If you struggle with sleep apnea and snoring, know that you’re not alone. Solutions exist beyond the CPAP machine – opt for lifestyle changes that can lead to lasting health, and speak with your physician about adding supplements and even mouth taping to your regime.

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