Sleep apnea basically is a breathing disorder that occurs when the muscle tension relaxes during night. It is an unsuccessful air intake. If that occurs frequently (15 failed breaths for an otherwise healthy person per hour, 5 for a person with a medical condition of high blood pressure, heart or liver problems etc.)
There are three forms of sleep apnea, that are treated differently:
- Obstructive sleep apnea occurs, when the brain’s signal to take a breath is correctly initiated, but the breath intake is unsuccessful because of a barrier. This is the most common form of apnea and is often connected with snoring. If that barrier can be taken out in a surgery, that would definitely be the first thing to do. If however the reason is a large and heavy tongue, soft tissue and low muscle tone in the throat, high body mass and so on. There are ways to treat this without a breathing mask or mouth piece.
- Central sleep apnea is present when the brain gives no or insufficient signal to take breath. This form is relatively rare and makes up for only 4-5% of all cases of sleep apnea. It is more likely to be present in infants than in adults and has to be taken very seriously. I would not recommend treating it without talking to a doctor and taking a sleep examination in a laboratory.
- Mixed or complex apnea is a combination of the first two. It is still not 100% clear how it evolves and if one of the two other forms can be indicated as the initiator. It is also quite rare but is usually more likely to occur in adults. It needs to be taken just as seriously as central sleep apnea and should definitely be thoroughly investigated and treated by a doctor.
Make sure that the persons physical effort to breath is sufficient, then these 5 tips to reduce snoring and sleep apnea will help:
1. Higher firmer pillow
Snoring and sleep apnea get worse when the head falls back. The tongue falls back and narrows the airway. When now the muscles relax the airway is easily blocked by collapsing walls of soft tissue. I recommend not to buy a apnea pillow right away, but use a larger cover and roll the existing pillow in towels. You should still be comfortable sleeping on your chest or side but make your pillow substantially higher and firmer. When you sleep, put the pillow at the top end of the bed, right to the wall or any barrier, so that you can not have it sit too low under your neck.
2. Sleep on the side or chest
Sleeping on the side or chest will make a great difference. Most of us snore mostly on the back. The problem is, during the night you roll back into that position. I have seen shirts with a pillow attached to the back, to prevent that. We can imitate that by again using a rolled towel and sew it to our sleeping shirt. You can also just stick it in, but it might fall off during the night. For some people it might work to make a long thin towel roll and stick it through the sleeves from left, behind your back to the right.
3. No Smoking
That’s easy, and actually saves money. But seriously. As hard as it may be. Smoking worsens snoring and sleep apnea tremendously, as the tissue in the airway swells.
4. No drinking or narcotics sleep apnea
On a similar topic, alcohol, drugs and narcotics lead to uncontrolled muscle relaxation and altered physical reaction to signals from the brain. The worsen snoring and sleep apnea a lot. However, there is nothing to be said against one beer or wine but the more alcohol is consumed the worse it gets. If you consume alcohol for dinner, leave some time before you go to bed, to get it at least partially out of the system.
5. Take a short walk before you sleep
Especially after dinner or a glass of wine but also on a normal day, fresh air will help ventilate your airways, free them up and increase muscle tone. Breathe in deeply and actively.
6. Lose weight (if you have a BMI > 25)
Obesity is one major reason for otherwise healthy people to get sleep apnea. Losing weight (if necessary) will tighten the tissue in the airway and reduce the risk of blockage.
7. Exercise twice a week at least
The right training for curing sleep apnea is endurance training. Try running, cycling or maybe swimming (if the chlorine is OK for your airways) at least for half an hour at moderate speed.
8. Sleep on a schedule
It might sound a bit strange, but it actually helps to maintain a fairly consistent sleep schedule.
9. Train the muscle tone in your throat
This is my personal favorite as there is no better way to this than voice practice like singing, recitation or playing a wind instrument. By training to control the muscle tension in you airway you strengthen it. The otherwise soft tissue in the airway becomes firmer.