One of the most common questions I get asked is, “What’s the best way of treating sleep apnea?” I have to admit that internally, I chuckle a bit since my answer would take over 5 hours. Beginning with “it depends,” I try to summarize some basic principles within a minute or two. If I have 10 minutes to summarize, I use the acrostic COMPASS as a guide to help me cover all the ways to treat obstructive sleep apnea. The first letter is C, which stands for conservative. I created another acrostic called SLEEPINESS as a guide to remember basic conservative musts to implement before treating your snoring or sleep apnea. In a following post, I will cover the rest of the letters in COMPASS.
Start with SLEEPINESS
Before staring any treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, conservative options are a must. This includes lifestyle options such as not eating within 3 hours of bedtime, regular exercise, weight loss, and improving nasal breathing. Good sleep hygiene is also a must. Without this basic foundation, any further treatment options won’t work as well.
Many of you are also severely sleep deprived, with a recent 2016 CDC study revealing about 35% of Americans getting less than 7 hours per night. Not too surprisingly, the Southeast and Appalachian areas had the lowest levels of adequate sleep, where obesity and diabetes are highest.
Before seeing a sleep doctor to treat your sleep problems, here are my top 10 conservative steps you must try:
- Sleep. Sleep at least 7 hours regularly every night. Lack is sleep is directly related to weight gain. Go to bed and wake up at the same time 7 days a week, even on weekends. Sleeping in on the weekends is like flying across the country and coming back every weekend.
- Light. Avoid electronic screens 2 to 3 hours before bedtime (blue light lowers your sleep hormone, melatonin). Spend more time outdoors and get expose to natural sunlight. There is an epidemic of Vitamin D deficient in this country. A recent paper found that increasing sun exposure may have more beneficial overall anti-cancer properties than the risk of developing skin cancer.
- Eliminate toxins. Eat fresh, healthy, and organic meals. Avoid processed foods. Eating organic will also limit the amount of toxins, pesticides and herbicides in your meals. Do an inventory of all your household or personal care products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource for checking on product safety.
- Eating. Don’t eat or snack on anything within 3 hours of bedtime. The more stomach juices you have lingering the more likely it will be suctioned up into your throat, even with a few apneas. It’s been shown that pepsin (a major stomach enzyme and irritant) can be found in the ears, sinuses, and lungs. If you have small tonsils, acid and pepsin will make it bigger, leading to more obstructions. The same goes for alcohol (ethanol). If you do drink, do it with moderation, much earlier before bedtime. If you can, avoid red wine, as this has more potential for triggering migraines.
- Pounds. Lose weight. Make a commitment to eat healthy, prioritize sleep, and engage in regular exercise. It’s been proven that poor sleep can promote weight gain or diabetes. So without sleeping well, it’s going to be difficult to lose weight no matter how well you eat or how much you exercise.
- Ingestion. Eat healthy, organic foods as close to its source as possible. Avoid processed foods. Cook at home as much as possible. Take supplements such as probiotics, Vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, Omega 3 oils, depending on your particular needs.
- Nose. Make sure you’re able to breathe well through your nose (during inhalation and exhalation). If you have allergies, take appropriate measures to minimize exposure to allergens. If needed, try over the counter allergy medications. You may also need to see your doctor for prescription medications. Some may even need allergy shots. If you still can’t breathe through your nose, see an ENT surgeon to see if you’re a candidate for nasal surgery. The vast majority of people with OSA have a deviated nasal septum, enlarged turbinates and flimsy nostrils (read my free report, How to Un-stuff Your Stuffy Nose).
- Exercise outdoors. Get more sun exposure. Many people with sleep apnea are severely Vitamin D deficient, which is actually a hormone that is important for every part of your body. Take a look at my interview with Dr. Gominak on Vitamin D.
- Sleep position. Most people will naturally like to sleep in their ideal sleep position that’s optimal for breathing. As a result, most modern humans prefer to avoid sleeping on our backs. However, you may get into trouble if you injure yourself or undergo surgery, and now you’re forced to sleep on your back. Certain health care professionals (such as chiropractors or dermatologists) are telling their patients to sleep on their backs for better spinal alignment or to avoid facial wrinkles. Besides using a tennis ball on your back, there are devices to prevent supine sleep.
- Stress reduction. Poor sleep for any reason will make you feel more stressed. Choking repeatedly while sleeping will also add significantly to your physiologic stress state. Add to this all the many other reasons for stress in our modern world, and this will definitely make you more tired and sicker than normal. There are various ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing exercises taught in yoga (pranayama), Buteyko breathing, or meditation. All these options can be helpful. But if you stop breathing 25 times every hour (whether or not you have apneas), your body’s stress level will be through the roof. For some people, breathing exercises may be enough to get by, but for others, it can only help a little. Most breathing techniques recommend breathing in through your nose. However, many of you literally can’t breathe through your nose for various reasons. See and ENT physician and take care of this ASAP.
If you tried some or all of these methods and still don’t feel significantly better, then it’s time to go the other letters in the acrostic COMPASS, to be discussed in my next blogpost.
Which of these options have you tried? Which were most helpful?Do you have any other tips for our readers? Please answer below in the text area.
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