Sleep apnea is a terrible affliction which can adversely affect your health in a number of ways. The most common signs are loud snoring, making choking noises, or gasping for breath while you sleep. This occurs when air is unable to get adequately through the respiratory tract.
Before I discuss a sleep apnea treatment without CPAP let’s look a little further in detail at this very serious sleep disorder.
There are two main forms of sleep apnea:
- Central Sleep Apnea – This takes place when the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles that control your breathing.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – The more common form of sleep apnea, often referred to as OSA, is when there is a partial or complete blockage of the upper airways whilst you are asleep. So, even though you are trying to breath normally the obstruction in your airway makes this extremely difficult which leads to snoring, choking noises, or you gasping for air.
Either form of sleep apnea means that your body and vital organs aren’t getting enough oxygen during sleep, and you don’t need me to tell you that this can be terribly harmful to your health.
Should You Seek Professional Help?
Should you notice that you (or your partner or a loved one for that matter) have periods of shallow, infrequent, andpauses in breathing while you sleep, I would suggest that you tell your doctor as soon as possible.
The National Sleep Foundation advises to contact a doctor about sleep apnea if you (or anyone else) experience any of the following:
- Waking up to find that you are choking or gasping for breath.
- Someone you share a bed with, or someone who sleeps in another room of the house, are disturbed by irregular breathing.
- Someone informs you that they stop breathing for short periods of time while they are asleep.
- You wake up on a regular basis and don’t feel alert or refreshed, and possibly find that you are suffering with morning headaches.
- You are overweight and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30.
- You have high blood pressure
- You experience chest pains during the night.
- You find that your sinuses are blocked on a regular basis.
- You feel tired and fatigued throughout the day.
- You have issues with your memory or just concentrating in general.
CPAP Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Possibly the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is the apparatus that provides Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, more commonly referred to as a CPAP machine.
CPAP is viewed in the medical world as an extremely important treatment for sleep apnea, but let’s face the facts, it doesn’t come without its frustrations (I guess that’s why you’re here reading this article).
The machine uses a hose and a mask (or a nose piece in some instances) to deliver a constant and steady stream of air pressure. You should wear a CPAP machine at night while you are sleeping and it will help to control and regulate your breathing through the constant air pressure.
The Most Common Problems With CPAP Machines
I would hazard a guess that a great majority of users experience some of the most common problems of using a CPAP machine.
- Trouble getting used to the equipment – It typically takes most people a number of weeks to get used to wearing a CPAP machine, if at all for that matter. It seems and feels strange having to wear an alien contraption around your face whilst you are trying to sleep. For many people, if they were experiencing problems with sleep before, these are only made worse with the introduction of a CPAP machine.
- The wrong size mask – If you’re having difficulty wearing a face mask that covers your nose and mouth and usually has a strap across your forehead and cheeks, imagine if it’s too big or too small. Too big and you find the mask constantly slipping off while you move in your sleep (this kind of defeats the object). Too small and the tightness across your face will only make you feel claustrophobic.
- Dry or stuffy nose – If the mask isn’t a perfect fit you may find that it leaks which generally causes your nose to dry out. You may need to tighten the straps to prevent this leakage, but once again this may feel very unnatural. There are certain CPAP devices fitted with heated humidifiers which can make a difference. It is also suggested that you may wish to try a nasal saline spray before bedtime – but doesn’t’t this all seem like a huge hassle?
- Unintentionally removing the CPAP machine at night – Just the discomfort of wearing a CPAP machine may force you to unintentionally remove it during the night. If you’re anything like me, you tend to move a lot in your sleep which can cause the mask to fall of your face. You may choose to loosen the straps as the mask feels uncomfortable and once again this causes the mask to come away from the face.
This is only the start when it comes to problems with a CPAP machine. I haven’t even mentioned dry mouth, the constant noise (especially the older models), a leaky mask which can cause pressure sores and irritation to the skin, and just general difficulty in tolerating the air pressure being forced into your airways.
That’s a lot to contend with.
Is There a Sleep Apnea Treatment Without CPAP?
When sleep apnea isn’t treated it can destroy the quality of your life. There are also numerous serious ailments that sleep apneacan cause, such as hypertension, the increased risk of stroke, heart failure, an irregular heartbeat and indeed heart attack.
There is always the option of surgery to treat sleep apnea, but even this comes with complications.
Going under the knife is dangerous in itself, but anesthesia, especially general anesthesia, can be extremely dangerous if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
The whole point of anesthesia is to slow your breathing down, which isn’t the best course of action for someone who struggles to breath anyway when they’re asleep. Your condition can also make it more difficult to regain consciousness and start breathing again after surgery.
Other Options for Treating Sleep Apnea Without a CPAP Machine
There is always natural therapy for those who don’t want to risk surgery and would like a sleep apnea treatment without a CPAP machine.
The best options available to you include:
- An anti-inflammatory diet plan – There are various food intolerances and allergens that can lead to obstructive sleep apnea. You may wish to remove certain food allergens from your diet, such as dairy, gluten, nuts, soya and corn. In fact, you may notice an immediate change in your symptoms just by no longer eating these foods. Ideally, your diet should consist of clean animal protein like grass-fed beef, organic poultry and fatty fish. You will want to increase your intake of phytonutrient rich fruit and vegetables – yellow, orange and red fruit and veg, as well as dark green, leafy vegetables.
- Exercise – The importance of exercise cannot be stressed enough when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, and this is no different if you suffer from sleep apnea. Regularly weight training and intense cardio can do wonders. Working out with weights not only helps to build muscle strength, but can also improve the respiratory system to function better when the thorax (where the main organs for respiration and circulation are contained in the chest area) is put under increased pressure. Cardiovascular exercise will help the respiratory tract to become more efficient and stronger.
- Concentrate on correct head position and spinal alignment – Most people who suffer with sleep apnea will have to deal with slight misalignments of the spine. This causes irritation and compression of certain nerve pathways, which in turn can affect the organ systems of the body. These types of spinal issues will usually cause you to shift the head further forward than it should be, and this simply adds further stress to your respiratory pathways. The pressure basically builds up on your larynx, pharynx, trachea and lungs.
Oral Exercises to Treat Sleep Apnea
Now that we have looked at methods including diet, exercise, and body alignment as a way to treat sleep apnea, it’s time to see what oral exercises can do for you.
Studies have shown that a change in your diet and exercise regime can reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea by up to 25%, and the addition of oral exercises could reduce the frequency or snoring and gasping for air by a further 36%.
The introduction of oral exercises to treat sleep apnea is fairly new, but it can have quite a dramatic effect.
You are specifically looking at exercising the back of your tongue, the tonsils and adenoids, as well as the uvula (the fleshy extension that hangs down at the entrance to your throat), and the soft palate.
- Singing – Singing is a great way to strengthen the upper throat and soft palate. Try singing the sound of each of the vowels for a period of 8-10 seconds each and repeat 3 times.
- Soft Palate Stretches – Open your mouth as wide as you possibly can while using the back of your throat to say “ah” (those dentist visits will come in handy here). Hold the sound for a continuous 20 seconds and repeat 8-10 times.
- Tongue Exercises – One of the most common sleep apnea symptoms is the tongue collapsing to the back of your throat. Try pushing the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth and then slide the tongue backwards. Repeat for a total of 25-30 times.
There are various ways to treat sleep apnea without the need for a CPAP machine or surgery for that matter.
However, initially I would suggest that you focus on the following:
- The foods you are eating. Are you allergic to specific foods? Is your diet full of “inflammatory” foods? Are you getting enough good fats on a regular basis, such as avocados, olive oil, coconuts, and certain seeds? Does your nutritional plan include fruit and vegetables like berries and lemons, spinach, kale broccoli, bok choy and romaine lettuce?
- Getting adequate exercise on a daily basis. Strengthening your cardiovascular system will also help your respiratory tract get stronger. Consider interval training, whereby you are working up to 90% and above of your heart rate in short, sharp bursts. Lifting weights will also enhance the strength of your respiratory muscles.
- Taking good care of your chiropractic health. Focus on your spine and head position – stand and sit up straight and correct any bad habits you have got into in terms of posture.
There are many other exercises, breathing techniques, and oral facial therapies that you can use to treat sleep apnea (which I will cover in future articles), but for now let’s just concentrate on getting the basics right.
I would love to hear from those of you who have used a CPAP machine – Was it right for?
Did you experience any specific problems?
Would you recommend the use of a CPAP machine to others who suffer with sleep apnea?
Please feel free to leave your comments below.
You may also want to check my article Can You Die From Sleep Apnea.