Sleep Apnea - The Bane of Modern Existence?

If you snore, sleep apnea may indeed be your problem.

'Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.' ~ Anthony Burgess

If we only so much as say we snore when we sleep, all of a sudden sleep studies are ordered to rule out this condition. Indeed, snoring is one of the possible symptoms. But let's take a closer look at this somewhat subjective condition.

In my opinion, sleep apnea is yet another diagnosis du jour, and I have witnessed the exponential growth of the industry for testing for it and for renting out the CPAP machines over the last several years.

It is a HUGE moneymaker. Our system never fails to reward the health care system that finds a way for ordering more tests to make their hospitals and clinics more solvent.  It also rewards the company that can sell the products/services to treat the condition.

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It is the frequency in which sleep studies are ordered and the frequency in which sleep apnea is treated with CPAP machines (continuous positive airway pressure) before other lifestyle changes, and more natural (read less expensive) remedies are tried that raises red flags in my face of yet another instance of exploitation.

Is Sleep Apnea Real?

Clearly the research shows that sleep apnea is real. I believe that the condition can easily be documented, just like vitamin D deficiency, with special tests that show variations from the 'normal' that are often poorly understood.

Observational and epidemiological studies only associate sleep apnea with other serious conditions. More large scale, randomized trials are needed to understand whether or not this condition poses a real threat to most people.

Mild forms of sleep apnea that begin with snoring may be treated successfully with other natural or much less expensive alternatives to the CPAP machine. See below for more.

The most severe form, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, can cause real havoc in the body. The periodic cessation of breathing while a person sleeps results in lowered oxygenation of your body for its metabolic needs.

Over time, the belief is that this oxygen deprivation will lead to permanent impairment from the oxidative stress placed on your system, resulting in inflammation and perhaps even death from heart failure or high blood pressure. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, CPAP may be the only alternative.

As always, if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, or if you snore, educate yourself to the best of your ability, and listen to your own intuition, your own body wisdom to aid you in your decisions.

If you are trying a treatment, see if your symptoms improve. If they don’t, stop the treatment and try something else. Only you can be the best judge.

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Risk Factors and Symptoms

Sleep apnea goes hand-in-hand with obesity and primary hypertension. At least 50% of folks who have these conditions also have sleep apnea. It is also linked to smokers, diabetics, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) heart failure and those who have had strokes. If you are male, non-Caucasian, pregnant or over 40 you are also at higher risk.

As I alluded to above, snoring is the single most common symptom of this type of apnea. Snoring is caused by the relaxation of the tongue and the back of the throat, that constricts the airway. The snore is the result of the air trying to push through this obstructed airway. This is why snoring almost always occurs while you are lying on your back. It is much easier for the tongue to block the back of the throat when you are in this position.

A person's airway becomes constricted for various reasons, causing the blockage of the nose, throat, and windpipe. If you are obese, the extra fatty tissue around the neck and throat aids the constriction and blockage.

Added girth around the abdomen and chest contributes to the problem by making it more difficult to expand your lungs effectively. The spread of middle age adds to the perfect storm.

If you have swollen nasal passages or glands in the throat, the condition is also worsened. So, children can have sleep apnea as well.

A partner can witness the periods of cessation of breathing that can occur many times in a period of an hour. When the brain registers the lowered oxygen after a period of time, it triggers the person to wake-up, often accompanied by a snort or choking sound.

Therefore, the person affected is often sleep deprived, and will feel excessively tired, fall asleep easily during the day, and may show poor judgment and poor mental skills.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

The most common treatment is to wear an oxygen-type mask over your nose and/or mouth, attached by tubing and powered by a machine that provides continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP for short. The applied pressure to the throat opens the airway and allows for breathing without the periodic apnea.

The person using the CPAP will be forever chained to a little CPAP machine that makes a whirring sound all night. Traveling light will now be a thing of the past, as this machine must go wherever the person with sleep apnea goes.

Most of the clients I have seen in the home setting have a very difficult time getting used to their CPAP machines and eventually refuse to use them. Often the individual starts out the night with it on, and eventually it falls off or the person takes it off.

The CPAP machine may also dry out the mucus membranes of your nose and mouth, which may be uncomfortable. I have heard of some people, however, that actually love it, so one size never fits all.

There are also surgical treatments such as Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty and somnoplasty. Very fancy names for removing the offending parts of the throat and reconstructing the jaw and tongue to open the airway. Gives me shudders and I hope this would only be your absolute last resort.

Lifestyle Changes to Treat Sleep Apnea

Our life’s breath is vital for our survival. Allowing our health to degrade to the level that most often accompanies sleep apnea is an outright ignoring of the importance of this life force.

If you are heading toward obesity, are middle aged, snore and have a preference for sleeping on you back, you may want to re-think your health strategies:

  1. Lose weight: Your single most important ticket to health is maintaining a healthy body weight. Period.
  2. Don’t drink alcohol 4 hours before bedtime: While you may feel that alcohol helps you relax, and indeed it does put you to sleep, it will disturb your sleep later on.
  3. Warm milk: If you are able to drink milk, warm it up and sip it before bedtime. The tryptophan in it will put you to sleep.
  4. Designate 7-8 hours/day for sleeping for the same time period each day: Need I say more?
  5. Relaxing activities prior to bedtime: Read a book, meditate, pray, or do relaxing and restorative yoga. No work, distressing movies/TV shows or computer activity within 30-60 minutes of bedtime.

Natural Snoring Remedies

  1. Simple foam wedge: Any health professional that has ever cared for patients with chronic respiratory problems also knows that it is much easier to breathe in a more upright position, at about 30 degrees, rather than lying flat on the back. If you find that you require several pillows under your head and shoulders to sleep you may have sleep apnea, reflux disease or other respiratory issues. So if you must lie on your back, a simple bed wedge pillow placed under your shoulders and head may be sufficient to stop the snoring and apnea. For the low cost, it may be well worth the try.
  2. An anti-snoring mouthpiece or other device: Read my brother’s personal story of success using an anti-snoring mouthpiece, below. You may want to try many other anti-snoring devices that are on the market. You may just find something that works for you!
  3. Side positioning: Simply turning over to sleep on your side may solve snoring. My husband snores, but only while lying on his back. He is very thin, so I doubt highly with his active lifestyle that his snoring is a problem. I just give him a nudge if I am awake when he happens to be snoring, and in his semi-conscious, he rolls right over on his side for me. I have him conditioned to be sensitive to that. There are many products on the market to help you stay sleeping on your side. There are special anti-snore pillows you could try, and wedge pillows, as well as the special mouthpieces like the one that worked for my brother. Just search for the anti-snoring products that appeal to you.
  4. Sinus Rinsing/Nasal Wash: If you have sinus issues or allergies that cause pharyngeal obstruction, the number one recommendation from respiratory specialists is sinus rinsing. You can use a Neti Pot, sold at most health food stores or my preference, is to do nasal wash with a simple plastic bottle, from Neilmed, a brand that I use and trust. Sinus rinsing is a procedure recommended by National Jewish Hospital, a highly ranked respiratory hospital in Denver, Colorado. My own husband uses the Neilmed almost every day, because of his sinus congestion. He loves it to keep his sinuses clear. Yogi's, who invented the Neti Pot, have known about the importance of clear nasal passages for hundreds of years! This simple procedure can help you too.

A Personal Story of an Averted Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

One day I was discussing my brother’s health status with him. He told me a very interesting story. Since he is middle aged, somewhat overweight, and snores when he sleeps, his doctor recommended that he go for a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. His wife was interested in the treatment too, for he was keeping her awake at night with his snoring.

Instead of jumping on the possibility of a new diagnosis, since he was aware of the ramification of being tied to a CPAP machine, he decided to do his own research on the subject. He did what an intelligent, self-motivated individual would do to take charge of his own health.

What he learned was astounding. For a mere 59 USD, he could buy a device that he could place in his mouth to prevent snoring. He told me he was at first reluctant to "throw away" 59 dollars, but thought it was better to try it than to just succumb to current traditional medical thinking. Bravo for him!

As it turned out, the device works. After using his anti-snoring mouthpiece his snoring is much improved and his wife is getting a good night’s sleep. The device he places in his mouth juts his lower jaw out, and takes some getting used to, but he is thrilled that he is now in control of his own health, regarding the sleep apnea issue.

The physiology behind why the device works is this: Just like when medical professionals perform CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), they have to open the airway for effective rescue breathing. We are taught a head tilt, or jaw thrust method to open the airway. This anti-snoring mouthpiece opens the airway by pushing your jaw forward, thereby opening the airway by disallowing the tongue to fall back to block your throat!

What a simple solution to a problem that the medical community takes hundreds of dollars to diagnose and thousands of dollars to treat! It must work, because dentists and orthodontists are now making custom anti-snoring mouthpieces, if you desire to spend a lot more money on your anti-snoring device or ensure a proper fit.

This device, most likely will not work for everyone. I am not suggesting that you remove yourself from your CPAP if it is successful for you. However, if you have mild snoring and/or mild sleep apnea and if you are middle aged and overweight, you may want to give it a try.

Breathing Affirmations

If you are a restless sleeper who snores and has sleep apnea, you may wish to say the following affirmations in your meditations and prayers before you go to bed at night:

  • The breath of life flows through me.
  • I am relaxed and breathe deeply.
  • I sleep with the full breath of peace.
  • I have restful sleep and sleep a full 8 hours.
  • I am safe. All is well in my world.

May you sleep peacefully and soundly and may the noise you make be ever quiet and non-labored.

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