Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition with wide ranging effects on the body and mind. As such, it is understandable that someone who suspects they have the condition would want to treat it as soon as possible. But not everyone is comfortable with jumping directly into sleep studies, CPAP machines or surgery.
If your goal is to attempt self-treatment and avoid medical intervention, there are options available to you. Below, you’ll find 5 ways you can treat OSA on your own, or to enhance other forms of treatment.
A Word of Caution
OSA is a dangerous condition, and when not addressed, it can be deadly. If you are confident that your sleep apnea is mild, at-home treatment of OSA could be safe to try for a few months. However, if you feel yours is moderate to severe, you need to be seen by a doctor first. While the idea of sleep studies and wearing devices every night can be overwhelming, sometimes, they are necessary.
Why Treatment Is Essential
Whether you are trying obstructive sleep apnea treatment on your own or with the guidance of a doctor, managing or correcting the condition is essential. Many people think OSA is just a sleep condition, but in fact, it can impact all systems of your body.
Long-term studies have documented a link between OSA and severe health conditions, including type-2 diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and a reduced lifespan. There are also indications that OSA can contribute to obesity, and obesity worsens OSA, creating a difficult cycle to break.
This does not even consider the impact OSA has on overall quality of life. Since it causes sleep disruptions, many with the condition never fully rest. As a result, they spend their days feeling lethargic and struggling to concentrate. It can impact their performance at work and ability to fully realize their relationships with family and friends.
Starting Treatment at Home
As soon as you suspect you have obstructive sleep apnea, you should start working on ways to manage it. Most options for treating OSA yourself will have health benefits even if they don’t help much with the condition, so no matter the results, it isn’t wasted effort.
Below are the top ways to start treating OSA yourself.
1. Reduce Your BMI
Obesity is one of the biggest driving factors behind cases of OSA. Research has found that those with obesity tend to have fat deposits in the tongue and back of the throat, which makes it easier for the airway to close while sleeping. Excess weight can also place pressure on the lungs, chin and throat, exacerbating anatomical abnormalities that cause OSA.
It is important to keep in mind that even moderate weight loss can have a big impact. Studies have indicated that even a 10% reduction in body fat can cut OSA symptoms in half. If your goal is to avoid appliance therapy and surgery, you could work with a nutritionist and personal trainer to kick off your weight loss.
2. Focus on Being Active
Exercise should be part of your weight loss plan, but being active helps OSA beyond reducing body fat. Regular exercise strengthens your cardiovascular and respiratory systems and also improves muscle tone. All of this can improve your breathing and energy, and muscle tone in particular can help keep your airway open even while asleep.
3. Avoid Depressants
Depressants are substances that act on the central nervous system by slowing its activity — in other words, depressing it. Your central nervous system regulates all of the automatic processes in the body, including your breathing and keeping the soft structures of the mouth and throat from collapsing. When it is depressed, it isn’t able to do its job.
When depressants are combined with OSA, the risk of death is much greater than when sedatives are avoided. Keep in mind that depressants include many prescription medications and alcohol, not just illegal drugs.
4. Stop Smoking
People actively using cigarettes are at a greater risk of developing severe sleep apnea than those who have either stopped smoking or never smoked. While the exact link between active cigarette use and severe OSA is not clear, it can be assumed that anything that reduces your oxygen intact or harms your lungs will negatively impact your breathing while asleep.
5. Change Your Sleep Position
The worst sleep position for someone with OSA is on your back. When you recline on your back, gravity pulls your tongue and other tissues down, making it easier for the airway to close. While it might require new pillows and a bit of training, you can switch to side or stomach sleeping to lessen your sleep apnea symptoms.
Ashwin Gowda, MD is the Medical Director of the Virtual Sleep Apnea Center of Texas. Board-certified in both sleep medicine and psychiatry, he has been helping patients in Texas breathe and sleep better since 2002.