BY ELIZABETH RENTER
Affecting an estimated 18 million Americans, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes people to stop breathing during the night. An estimated two to four percent of Americans are affected by sleep apnea and don’t know it, and whether you know you have apnea or not, you are at an increased risk of everything from strokes to diabetes. Knowing how to treat your apnea could potentially save your life. Other good news? There are natural sleep apnea treatments you can use.
The periods of breathlessness in someone with sleep apnea usually lasts from ten to thirty seconds and can happen just a few times or several hundred times a night. Generally, it’s caused by the muscles of the throat becoming too relaxed during sleep and constricting the airways. These periods of oxygen deprivation can have both short term (migraines, extreme fatigue) and long term effects (stroke, heart disease, and death).
In most cases of sleep apnea, patients visit their medical doctor who may conduct a sleep study and then prescribe a CPAP machine, or one which delivers oxygen to the patient through the night. Unfortunately, natural solutions are rarely recommended, yet a number of natural sleep apnea treatments exist.
Some Natural Sleep Apnea Treatments
- 1. Lose Weight
The vast majority of sleep apnea patients are overweight, and many of those who lose weight find their apnea to disappear immediately. One study, out of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that 20 percent of study participants were completely cured of sleep apnea by an aggressive weight loss program. Others who lost weight saw a significant reduction in symptoms. Any weight loss program must include a healthy diet and regular exercise. Exercise may have its own effects on apnea, training the muscles and otherwise spreading oxygen throughout the body.
- 2. Change Your Sleep Position
When you lie on your back, you encourage the throat muscles to close up, and your tongue to fall towards the back of your throat. By simply moving to your side, you can reduce this discomfort and potential trigger of apnea episodes. Also, reducing the number of pillows you use allows the neck to rest at a more natural angle, not pushing your chin towards your chest and opening your airways.
- 3. Vitamins/Minerals
Several different vitamins and minerals have been shown to improve the symptoms of sleep apnea. Neurologist Dr. Stasha Gominak, a specialist on sleep, found that the majority of her patients complaining of sleep apnea also had a vitamin D deficiency. By increasing vitamin D consumption, they decreased or even eliminated the symptoms associated with sleep apnea. Who would have thought that simply spending time outdoors could be among natural sleep apnea treatments.
A study from the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that vitamin C can reduce the damage of sleep apnea. Scientists have found that apnea can have damaging effects on the cells, but vitamin C can counteract that damage. By increasing vitamin C consumption while treating your apnea, you can reduce the potentially dangerous effects of the sleep disorder.
- 4. Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that is vital to muscle regulation. Because apnea is a problem with the muscles of the upper throat, ensuring you have enough magnesium in your diet is crucial.
- 5. Herbal Remedies
A number of different herbal sleep remedies could help with various sleeping issues, Whether it be sleep apnea, narcolepsy or delayed sleep syndrome. Lavender (Lvandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis) and California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) are two such herbs that could be of great benefit.
- 6. Serotonin Precursor 5-HTP
Finally, the serotonin precursor 5-HTP has been recommended for people suffering from sleep apnea, as decreased serotonin levels can cause the sleep disorder. While serotonin production depends on magnesium, as mentioned above, 5-HTP can increase the body’s production of this “feel good” hormone.
While any one of the above natural sleep apnea treatments could help you, the first line of defense against sleep apnea is weight management. This is a frightening disorder, one that can literally leave you gasping for air, but rather than running out to get a prescription solution or a cumbersome mask, trying to correct the underlying cause of the apnea could leave you healthier than before.