If you’ve been told by your doctor that CPAP is the *only* solution for your sleep apnea, you’ve come to the right place!
Just like there isn’t one single diet that’s suitable for every overweight person on earth, there’s not one single sleep apnea treatment that’s best for every sufferer.
The best sleep apnea treatment for you will depend on your circumstances and - most importantly - the underlying *cause* of your sleep apnea. (If you still don’t know the underlying cause of your sleep apnea, please read our article "How to Diagnose Your Sleep Apnea".)
Section 1: When the Cause of Your Obstructive Sleep Apnea is: Excessive Tissue and /or Weak Muscles in the Upper Airway
i. Excessive tissue in the upper airway simply means you have too much flab in your throat. That could be caused by being overweight, by genetic factors, or by other health conditions.
Regardless, having excessive tissue in your upper airway means your throat is closing while you’re asleep.
ii. Weak muscles in the upper airway mean poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat. When muscles are too relaxed, the tongue falls backwards into the airway or the throat muscles draw in from the sides into the airway.
This animation shows the OSA process:
Fortunately, there are several proven sleep apnea treatments that can fix the flab and strengthen the weak muscles in your throat.
i. Orofacial (Mouth & Throat) Exercises
Mouth and throat exercises improve the muscle and tissue strength within your upper respiratory system. They also help in reducing excess throat tissue.
These exercises include the soft palate and the area of the tongue at the back of your mouth.
Orofacial exercises tighten and strengthen your upper respiratory muscles, which in turn widens your airway and lets you get an adequate supply of air into your lungs without the use of any medical or dental device or machine.
It takes 6 to 8 weeks of regular practice to get noticeable results.
For your peace of mind and breathing freedom, a sleep apnea exercise program is definitely something you should try. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
ii. Singing Therapy
Singing therapy was developed by a researcher at the University of Exeter, England in 1999. It was originally tested as a remedy for snoring.
Singing execises increase muscle tone. This increased muscle tone in the throat can reduce the vibration of snoring. And it can also prevent airway collapse, leading to apnea.
There are *specific types* of singing exercises that tone the airway. In other words, not all singing exercises will make your throat muscles stronger.
In singing therapy you make a series of emphasized sounds, as well as exaggerated mouth and neck exercises.
Singing therapy can not only significantly reduce the number of apneas you have every night, it can also increase your vocal range.
iii. Didgeridoo therapy
Playing a didgeridoo on a regular basis is an acknowledged and proven way to to strengthen the muscles in the upper airway, thereby preventing them from collapsing while you are asleep.
This not only reduces (or eliminates) your sleep apnea, it will also reduce daytime sleepiness and the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the most severely affected patients.
iv. Acupuncture therapy
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that has been practiced for centuries.
It's based on the theory that energy, called chi ("chee"), flows through and around your body along pathways called meridians.
Acupuncturists believe that illness occurs when something blocks or unbalances your chi. Acupuncture is a way to unblock or influence chi and help it flow back into balance.
Acupuncture is done by putting very thin needles into your skin at certain points on your body. This is done to influence the energy flow. Sometimes heat, pressure, or mild electrical current is used along with needles. Source: WebMD
Acupuncture does significantly improve sleep apnea. However, saying that it offers permanent cure without any recurrences may be questionable.
v. Sleep Supplements
This treatment is appropriate for you because specific sleep supplements have been shown to not only induce better sleep (through reducing stress and calming anxiety), but certain herbal supplements control the tone of muscles around the blood vessels.
Many plants such as Chamomile and Lavender are associated with treating sleep problems.
These have shown in clinical studies to significantly improve sleep apnea symptoms.
Other herbs that work similarly are valerian and kava-kava. Green tea and passion flower are also known to induce sleep and help insomnia. These often come dried or as oil extract and can be bought in supermarkets, aromatherapy stores and online.
Hemp oil has been shown to help improve the condition o the respiratory system and ailments that may be associated with it, including sleep apnea.
Both evening primrose and borage have been shown to reduce inflammation which can occur in the airways, which also has an effect on sleep apnea. Such oils may be found in health supplement stores, herbal stores and online.
Our comprehensive guide, "Cure You Sleep Apnea With Herbs", shows how herbs can cure your sleep apnea and insomnia. Click HERE to learn more about, "Herbs For Sleep Apnea" - The Definitive Guide To Herbal Therapy For Sleep Apnea"!
vi. Yoga Therapy
As with sleep supplements, yoga breathing therapy can reduce stress and calm anxiety. But did you know that specific diaphragmatic exercises can also strengthen your diaphragm and increase oxygen intake?
Sleep apnea is one of the conditions which can be alleviated through the regular practice of yoga.
This is done through the use of Pranayama. This is one of basic yoga workouts that focuses on awareness and control of the breath.
Sleep apnea patients can benefit from this as Pranayama expands the body’s breathing capacity. It is allows for natural deep breathing that can increase the amount of oxygen that is taken in.
Also, there is a possibility that Pranayama can help make breathing more regular, and reduce the number of breathing pauses experienced while sleeping.
Other than helping to develop better breathing habit for those with obstructive sleep apnea, regular yoga also helps to increase muscle tone and strengthen the muscles in the throat area.
Better toned throat muscles will result in lessened blockage in the airways during sleep. At the same time, when used as a form of regular exercise yoga can help keep weight in check.
vii. The Buteyko Breathing Method
Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT), this is a complementary therapy that was developed in 1950 by Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, a medical doctor from Ukraine.
BBT is a series of breathing exercises which are designed to help you develop a healthy breathing pattern.
It was formulated based on the observation that many major respiratory conditions like asthma stemmed from hyperventilation or chronic deep breathing.
When carbon dioxide is in its carbonic acid form it plays a key role in regulating the acid base balance of the system.
When hyperventilation occurs, breathing becomes faster and deeper, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the body and resulting in a condition called hypocapnia that disrupts the acid base balance.
This will cause a drop in pH levels of the blood, making it more alkaline, which in turn affects the harmony between hemoglobin and oxygen molecules as the body tries to balance levels.
In the end the system delivers less oxygen to the tissues causing all types of illnesses – including sleep apnea.
viii. Weight loss
That is because losing weight reduces the excessive tissue in their upper airway.
In clinical research, doctors have found that as patients lose more weight, they experience greater relief of their condition. However, losing as little as 14 pounds causes dramatic improvement. 10 percent of patients who lost 14 pounds were able to stop using their CPAP machines entirely.
Other studies found that weight loss of 40 pounds or more caused a 58 percent reduction in sleep apnea symptoms. These patients experienced an average of 21 fewer incidents each night, such as pauses in breathing.
The patients in these studies were put on strict diets and lost weight fairly quickly, but weight loss does not have to be rapid to have a positive effect on sleep apnea. Patients in a third study lost 24 pounds on average over the course of one year.
These patients experienced significant improvement from their sleep apnea and were three times more likely to have some relief from symptoms than people who did not lose weight.
Our Sleep Apnea Weight Loss Program can be an excellent option for you if you are trying to get rid of sleep apnea by losing weight.
Section 2: When the Cause of Your Obstructive Sleep Apnea is: Nasal Obstructions
The two main nasal obstructions are a deviated septum and enlarged turbinates.
i. A deviated septum is a condition in which the nasal septum -- the bone and cartilage that divide the nasal cavity of the nose in half -- is significantly off center, or crooked, making breathing difficult.
Some people are born with a deviated septum. Other people develop a deviated septum after injury or trauma to the nose. WebMD
ii. The turbinates are projections of soft tissue on the side walls inside the nasal cavity. They warm, humidify, and filter the air you breathe, and are sometimes called the "thermostats" of the nose.
Turbinates are constantly changing in size enlarging and contracting in cycles as they warm, humidify, and filter the air. When they become inflamed or enlarged for any reason, nasal blockage occurs. SJO.org
Following are the causes of turbinate enlargement:
- As we grow older, the turbinates gradually thicken, narrowing the nasal airway.
- Allergies and infections can cause turbinate enlargement
- Any chronic irritation or inflammation, caused by factors such as weather and temperature changes, stress, fatigue, medications and hormone changes from thyroid disorders and pregnancy, can lead to swelling of the turbinates.
While enlarged turbinates can sometimes be temporary (caused by a cold or allergies, for example), chronic enlarged turbinates, and a deviated septum, require surgical treatment. So the best treatment to go for is nasal surgery.
There are two main types of nasal surgery that can be used to help deal with sleep apnea.
A type of cosmetic plastic surgery, rhinoplasty is a procedure that is done to reshape or correct defects in the nose.
For this type of surgery an incision is made on the inside of the nose in order to allow access to the cartilage and other nasal bones.
Any nasal blockage is corrected and the nose is restructured to allow better breathing.
This is a procedure performed in order to treat a deviated septum.
A deviated septum is a nasal abnormality where the wall between the nasal passages is displaced causing sinus infections, snoring, difficulty breathing and sleep apnea among other things.
The surgery is done to straighten or reposition the septum and eliminate any breathing obstructions which may be causing problems.
To do this an incision is made on the inside in side of the septum and mucus membrane is lifted to gain access to the bones and cartilage.
Obstructions are removed and the septum is straightened and provided with temporary support to help it heal properly.
Section 3: When the Cause of Your Obstructive Sleep Apnea is: Oral Obstructions (Mouth & Throat)
“Structural or oral obstructions” simply means there’s something in your nose, mouth, or throat that is physically blocking the flow of air into your body (something besides the excessive tissue).
Because there are a range of oral obstructions, there are also a range of potential treatments, including various surgeries.
Here are the options to consider if you have an oral obstruction:
i. Acupuncture therapy
If your oral obstruction is from a tongue that is too large or flabby, this treatment is appropriate for you.
Acupuncture therapy has been shown in scientific trials to significantly strengthen the genioglossus (tongue muscle).
Strengthened tongue muscles prevent the base of the tongue from sliding back into the throat during sleep. It is also know to stimulate muscles in the upper airway.
ii. Dental appliance
Oral appliances work by pushing or pulling your lower jaw forward. By doing this, your tongue is in a position that does not block your airway.
This reduces the risk that the airway may vibrate (heard as a snoring sound) or your tongue may obstruct your airway during sleep. Source: Thoracic.org
So this treatment is appropriate for you if you have an oral obstruction involving your tongue or jaw.
iii. Throat surgery
There are many different types of throat surgeries.
But there are only a handful of main surgeries to remove oral obstructions, and one surgery (a procedure called “UPPP”) that removes several oral obstructions at once.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): This procedure involves the removal of soft tissues causing blockage of the upper airway at the back of the throat. The uvula, a section of the soft palette and throat are removed.
If adenoids and the tonsils are present, these are removed as well. The elimination of these enlarges the upper airway, improves flexibility of the soft palette and reduces the movement of certain muscles in the area to keep the airway open.
UPPP has been proven to be successful 65 percent of the time, most especially if the underlying cause for sleep apnea is an abnormal function of the soft palette.
Although this procedure may improve conditions, those with moderate to severe sleep apnea may still need to use continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) afterwards.
Post-surgical complications rarely occur, but when it does it may be serious. These may include infection, loss of sense of smell, voice change, mucus buildup in the throat and poor performance of the throat muscles and soft palette.
In most cases of sleep apnea, patients visit their medical doctor who may conduct a sleep study and then prescribe a CPAP machine. Unfortunately, natural solutions are rarely recommended.
Why? Because the CPAP manufacturers dominate the sleep apnea “industry”. So there’s little incentive for doctors and health practitioners to explore other treatments.
Yet there’s a reasonable number of natural sleep apnea treatments that exist, that are simple and are proven to either significantly reduce or completely cure obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Here are some natural treatments that might be a great fit for you:
This program consists of mouth and throat (also called orofacial or oropharyngeal) exercises that proven to help cure (or significantly reduce) sleep apnea. Click here for more information about the program.
References & Resources:
- Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomised controlled trial
- Positional therapy for obstructive sleep apnea: an objective measurement of patients' usage and efficacy at home
- Treatment of moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome with acupuncture: A randomised, placebo-controlled pilot trial
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness in a General Population Sample: The Role of Sleep Apnea, Age, Obesity, Diabetes, and Depression
- Nasal dilator strip therapy for chronic sleep-maintenance insomnia and symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing: a randomized controlled trial
- A Multicenter, Prospective Study of a Novel Nasal EPAP Device in the Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Efficacy and 30-Day Adherence