Facts About Sleep Apnea

There are millions of people struggling with sleep apnea. In America alone, as many as 22 million people suffer with it and the majority - 80 percent - are moderate to severe. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most popular with nine percent of women and 24 percent of men suffering from it but it often goes undiagnosed.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about sleep apnea.

How do you treat sleep apnea without CPAP?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is a popular solution for individuals suffering with OSA but it is not the only solution. Alternative treatments include:

  • Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP) are adhesive strips with microvalves that fit over your nostrils to create pressure in the airway.
  • Nasal Strips that dilate the nostrils are effective ways to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea, however, they do not treat the disorder.
  • Mouthpieces come in a variety of styles and sizes. Mandibular Adjustment Devices (MADs) will hold your lower jaw forward as you sleep, preventing snoring. Anti-snoring mouthpieces are proven effective in the treatment of sleep apnea. Tongue Retaining Devices (TRDs) are a type of mouthpiece that hold the tongue in a way that it does not slide to the back of the throat and cause snoring.
  • Surgery may sometimes be required to remedy OSA.

In addition to devices, lifestyle changes and some exercises have shown to help with treating sleep apnea.

  • Lose weight. Obesity is one common factor in those who lose sleep to snoring. Weight loss can help you stop snoring.
  • There are some throat exercises that may help reduce snoring.
  • Regular exercise improves health and can also remove fatty tissues around your neck that can reduce snoring.

What vitamins are good for sleep apnea?

Vitamin deficiencies can affect sleep. While there are multi-vitamins available that have the recommended daily allowance most of the essential vitamins and minerals, additional vitamins that can help include:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium

Can skinny people have sleep apnea?

Yes. However, the majority of individuals with sleep apnea are overweight.

Can I buy a CPAP machine without a sleep study?

No. At least, not legally. Even if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, a CPAP may not be what you need. You can find used CPAP machines but this is not recommendedA prescription is needed to acquire a CPAP.

Does vitamin D help sleep apnea?

Yes. Researchers have found Vitamin D deficiency to be common among sufferers of OSA.

Does sitting up help sleep apnea?

Yes. Elevating your head (Head of Bed Elevation, or HOBE) has shown to be effective in helping with snoring. However, trying to sleep comfortably while sitting up can cause neck, shoulder, and back problems.

What aggravates sleep apnea?

There are different causes of sleep apnea but some things can make it worse. Including:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Certain medications
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Sleeping in the wrong position [*link to previous article about the wrong/right sleep positions]

Is sleep apnea a disability?

Officially, sleep apnea can be classified as a disability (allowing individuals to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits) if they meet certain criteria.

However, the mental, physical, and emotional impacts of sleep apnea can lead to you being qualified for SSD if it is obstructing your quality of life.

Can I self-treat sleep apnea?

There are a number of things you can try but what works for some may not work for others. Some self-treating options include:

  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Try a humidifier
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Stop smoking
  • Change sleeping positions
  • Use a mouthpiece or other non-prescription solution.
  • Drink some green tea (it includes an amino acid called Theanine which aids in sleep)
  • Try certain vitamins and supplements as mentioned above.

While treating sleep apnea at home may feel like a good idea, it is important that you see a doctor or specialist if none of these options are helping with your sleep apnea.

Do Breathe Right® nasal strips help with sleep apnea?

Breathe Right® nasal strips do not treat sleep apnea but can be effective in helping reduce snoring. However, if you have sleep apnea and use these strips, you could trick yourself into not receiving the proper treatment for sleep apnea.

What essential oils are good for sleep apnea?

There is very little medical evidence to show how certain essential oils help with sleep apnea. Further, sleep apnea itself cannot be treated with essential oils; rather, it can help reduce snoring in some cases. Essential oils that help include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Peppermint
  • Sage
  • Lavender
  • Valerian
  • Clove
  • Thyme (rubbed on feet is suppose to reduce snoring)

It is important to understand that some of these oils promote sleep by relaxing the body and mind so if your sleep apnea goes untreated, you will likely continue to snore. For individuals who snore due to congestion, minty types of oils (such as the eucalyptus, peppermint, and clove) help to break up phlegm and mucus that could cause your snoring.

Does melatonin help sleep apnea?

Yes. Melatonin is a natural hormone that induces sleep and has shown to be effective for helping with sleep apnea. It is available without a prescription in most pharmacies as a dietary supplement. However, it can have side effects and may not interact with certain medications.

Can you die in your sleep from sleep apnea?

Yes, but it is not common. One famous of death from sleep apnea is that of actress Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia in Star Wars). You are at increased risk of cardiac arrest and other severe, life threatening if you allow your sleep apnea to go untreated.

Is honey good for sleep apnea?

No. Honey has natural anti-inflammatory properties so in cases where snoring is the result of inflammation, a teaspoon of honey (raw, unpasteurized) is helpful in reducing inflammation in the throat. Sleep apnea, however, is a medical condition that cannot be treated with honey. 

Can a wearable device (like Fitbit) detect sleep apnea?

Initially, wearable devices like Fitbit could monitor your sleeping patterns based on your motion. Since the product was first launched, however, Fitbit and other wearables have become more technically advanced, providing information such as oxygen in the body, position, respiratory effort, airflow, cardiovascular system information, and sleep.

Doctors can draw information from these devices to better help them determine if you are a likely candidate for sleep testing.

Do Breathe Right® strips work? Can they be used every night? 

Breathe Right® nasal strips work for individuals with snoring related to nasal problems like a deviated septum or nasal congestion. While they can help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea, they are not an adequate treatment for it. In fact, using Breathe Right® may result in someone not seeking medical attention for sleep apnea which can be dangerous.

Since these nasal strips are non-medicated, they can be used every night with the only risk being the possibility of skin irritation with frequent use, as with any skin adhesive product.

Can Benadryl help with sleep apnea?

No. In fact, it can make your sleep apnea worse. Benadryl (and other OTC sleep aids) contain muscle relaxants and since sleep apnea is the result of throat muscles becoming too relaxed, naturally such medications will likely make your snoring even worse.

Can Theravent be used for sleep apnea?

Theravent is an effective alternative for people with mild to moderate sleep apnea, but it is not for everyone. There are reports of the strips not fitting properly and/or being painful. Theravent won’t work if you breathe through your mouth.

How many hours per night should CPAP be used?

According to the Sleep Foundation, the minimum number of hours a CPAP should be used is six per night

Does stress cause sleep apnea?

Stress can cause a number of health issues but sleep apnea is not one of them. However, sleep apnea can certainly cause stress because of the complications of the disorder. Specifically:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart problems
  • Metabolic problems
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Relationship problems (due to partner not being able to sleep)

Any one of these complications can result in stress. So while sleep apnea is not caused by stress, it is a dangerous condition that results in it.

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