Does this sound like you? You climb into bed every night, maybe fall asleep quickly (or maybe not) but wake in the morning feeling exhausted and foggy. If most of your mornings sound like this, you might have sleep apnea. You don’t have to live (or sleep) this way, though. There are sleep apnea treatments that can help break this cycle.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea, also referred to as sleep disordered breathing (SDB), affects an estimated 25 million people in the U.S. Those statistics only take into account people with an actual sleep apnea diagnosis, and the real numbers may be much higher.
Aside from waking up every morning feeling exhausted and unrested, there are some common symptoms of sleep apnea, including:
- Daytime fatigue and excessive sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating and other mental issues
- Noticeable cessation of breath during sleep followed by a choking intake of air
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
- Morning headache
- Loss of sex drive
- Nighttime sweating unrelated to another condition (e.g., menopause)
- High blood pressure
Sleep apnea is more than just a poor night’s sleep. It carries significant health risks, and proper treatment is crucial.
What sleep apnea treatments could work for me?
The first step to finding your best sleep apnea treatment is to get a proper diagnosis. Although there are at-home test options, a sleep study is usually the most reliable diagnostic tool. The formal name of a sleep study is polysomnography.
This procedure takes about six hours and measures the following things:
- Brain waves with an electroencephalogram (EEG)
- Chin and eye movement signaling sleep stages with an electrooculogram (EOG)
- Heart rate and rhythm with an electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood
- Leg movement
There are no needles involved, as each of these is measurements is taken with various leads and lines connected to machines. For example, a band around the chest will check respiration. This type of diagnostic test determines your apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which calculates the severity of your sleep apnea.
- 5 to 15 is mild obstructive sleep apnea
- 15 to 30 is moderate obstructive sleep apnea
- 30+ is severe obstructive sleep apnea
In a similar diagnostic practice, called a split-night study, the first part of the study attempts to diagnose the presence of sleep apnea. If a sleep apnea diagnosis is achieved, the sleeper is fitted with a CPAP machine to see if and how they respond to this therapy for the remainder of the study (see more on CPAP machines below).
Sleep apnea treatments can help with all levels of sleep apnea.
1. Sleep apnea prevention
The first step for everyone suffering from sleep apnea is to minimize the risk of worsening your symptoms. Even if you don’t currently suffer but have family members who do, these lifestyle interventions can help prevent sleep apnea.
Lifestyle interventions are also great to use in combination with other sleep apnea treatments that we discuss below.
To prevent sleep apnea, you should:
- Lose weight: All the research agrees that a higher BMI is directly correlated to an increased risk of sleep apnea. On the other hand, losing weight significantly reduces your risk of sleep apnea and decreases the intensity of symptoms.
- Avoid alcohol: Even one drink before bed increases (or causes) sleep apnea symptoms. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, skip alcohol altogether.
- Change sleeping position: Positional therapy helps sleepers adjust their sleeping position to minimize the chances of apneas (pauses in breath). With persistent use, research shows that positional therapy significantly decreased the incidence of sleep apnea.
2. Positive airway pressure devices
CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure), and VPAP (variable positive airway pressure) devices are all designed to help keep a sleeper’s airway open as they sleep.