Untreated Sleep Apnea can stress your heart, raise your arterial pressure, and make your mood worse. You might have a hard time thinking clearly because you don’t get the depth to sleep you need. And your snoring or lack of air at night can disturb your loved ones.
Christine Won, MD, specializes in to sleepbreathing problems linked to Yale Medicine and says lifestyle changes can help. Some are aimed at your Sleep Apnea. Others are geared towards better sleep in general. “It can help with the fragmented, poor-quality sleep you get with sleep apnea.”
Here’s what you need to know.
Your genes and natural physical traits also play a role, says Kuljeet Gill, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. But “losing weight is probably the first recommendation.
Won agrees that losing weight may help alleviate severe symptoms in some people. But that might not completely eliminate your need for CPAP, she says.
Anyone of any size can get sleep apnea, even children. That’s why Meir Kryger, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at Yale Medicine, asks adults with sleep apnea this question: “Do you have children and some of them snore?” Early treatment in children can prevent problems later, he says.
Your risk for sleep apnea increases if you are not physically active. Exercise can help you lose fat around your upper respiratory tract. Even without a big drop weight, Kryger says that regular movement can increase your energy levels and improve your overall health.
Apart from weight loss, research shows physical activity can help people with sleep apnea in the following ways:
- Increase your oxygen level
- Help you feel less drowsy
- Improve the quality of your sleep
- Decrease the severity of your sleep apnea
We need more research to find out exactly how exercise helps with sleep apnea. But try to work in 2 days of bodybuilding and at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week. Think 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Gill says your mood and the quality of your sleep could improve with just 10 to 20 minutes a day.
Stop drinking and smoking
Alcohol use can worsen sleep apnea for several reasons. “We know it reduces the tone of the respiratory muscles in the upper respiratory tract,” Kryger explains. “But also, people who drink a lot of alcohol tend to gain weight.”
Gill says it’s best to quit alcohol altogether. But she knows it’s not doable for everyone. If you are going to drink, here are some tips to reduce the impact of alcohol on your sleep apnea:
- Stop drinking at least 3-4 hours before going to bed.
- Limit alcohol consumption to weekends.
- If you are a heavy drinker, try cutting down to 1 or 2 a day.
If you smoke, quit. Experts don’t know exactly how to smoke smoking concerns sleep apnea. But studies show people who have trouble sleeping or are more likely to smoke. In addition, the chemicals in cigarettes can harm your health and worsen the quality of sleep.
Avoid certain medications
Gill says you’ll want to be extra careful with opioids, a strong type of pain reliever. They can slow your breathing rate and relax the respiratory muscles even more.
Other drugs that could affect sleep apnea include:
Ask your doctor if you can use over-the-counter sleeping pills. It’s not this OTC sleeping tablets make sleep apnea worse, says Gill, but “you don’t want to mask an underlying breathing problem.”
Change your sleeping position
You may breathe easier if you sleep on your side. ” I have sometimes [older] men buy pregnancy pillows to avoid their backs, ”says Gill.
Also take a look at your choice of mattress. “A bed that elevates the head can also help,” says Won.
But keep in mind that a change in body position will not resolve the cause of your sleep apnea. And it might not do much if you have severe symptoms. “But it can help people who snore or have a mild problem breathing from sleep,” says Kryger.
You might hear something called oral appliance therapy. These tools pull your language away from your throat or bring your lower jaw up and forward, Kryger says. It keeps the throat open at night. For some people, braces can be “almost as effective as CPAP,” he says.
Treat nasal congestion
A stuffy nose does not cause sleep apnea. The problem starts in your throat, behind your language, says Kryger. But manage your allergies – either with surgery, anti-inflammatory agents or corticosteroids – can help if you have mild sleep apnea, he says.
In addition to allergy treatment, Gill suggests rinsing with saline solution once or twice a day. You can purchase over-the-counter nasal sprays or irrigation kits. Gill says that whether you use a CPAP machine or not, “part of breathing easier is opening your nose.”
Adopt good sleep habits
It will not treat your sleep apnea. But healthy habits can facilitate a good night’s sleep. There are many behavioral strategies that your doctor may ask you to try.
Won says exercise can help keep you alert during the day and make you tired enough to crash at night. And she says relaxation practices such as meditation may help you fall asleep more easily and achieve a deeper level of sleep.
Gill says a strict sleep-wake schedule is essential. Here are some of his tips:
- Go to bed within 15 to 30 minutes of the same time each day.
- Keep the same sleep routine on weekdays and weekends.
- Avoid daytime naps if you can’t easily fall asleep at night.
Gill also suggests putting electronics down at least 2-3 hours before bed. These are things like laptops, smartphones, or tablets. “Television and reading are very different,” she says.
Watch what you eat
Experts agree that it is better to avoid large meals, caffeine, and spicy foods at night. These can get worse stomach pains. This is when the acid escapes from your stomach up to the throat. “The reflux, or acid, can actually rise high enough to irritate the upper respiratory tract,” Kryger explains. “It can make the apnea worse.”
Give yourself time to sleep
Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. It can also increase your chances of Mental Health problems. “People who have untreated sleep apnea are much more likely to be depressed or have depression-like symptoms, ”Kryger says. “And they’re much more likely to be very irritable.”
Allow 7 to 9 hours of sleep. If you get much less than that, Kryger says some of your symptoms, such as drowsiness, may not get better even if you make lifestyle changes or use a respirator.
Take an active role in your care
If you are using a CPAP, make sure it is working properly. Ask your doctor how to check your device. Kryger says your device can connect to a smartphone app that sends information directly to your doctor. They can verify this data and make changes to your CPAP remotely.
“Sleep medicine is quite up to date in terms of telemedecine, “he says.” There is a lot we can do to help (people with sleep apnea) take care of themselves. “