DescriptionAn in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sleep apnea.
Often, body position greatly affects the number and severity of episodes of obstructive sleep apnea, with at least twice as many apneas occurring when a person lies face upward than when the person lies on his or her side. This may be due to the effects of gravity, which cause the throat to narrow when a person lies on the back. (Indeed, astronauts show a marked reduction in apneas and snoring in the weightlessness of space.)
As a first step in dealing with sleep apnea, the patient should simply try rolling over onto the side. Patients who sleep on their backs and have 50 to 80 apneas (breathless events) per hour can sometimes reduce them to nearly zero when they shift to one side or the other. (The more overweight a person is the less effective changing positions is, but it still helps.)
Some suggestions that might help a person maintain a low-risk sleeping position are as follows:
Over-the-counter nasal strips, such as the Breathe Right strip, or other devices that open the nostrils are inexpensive and useful to prevent snoring. They may significantly improve early-stage sleep in people with sleep disorders associated with nasal obstruction and help reduce morning tiredness. They are not intended as treatments for sleep apnea, however.
All patients with obstructive sleep apnea who are overweight should attempt a weight-reducing program. Weight loss certainly reduces snoring in many people, sometimes stopping it completely. It also improves sleep and significantly reduces daytime sleepiness. One 2000 study suggested that people who lost 10% of body weight experienced an average 26% reduction in risk for developing sleep apnea in the first place. (Gaining 10% of their body weight, on the other hand, increased the odds of sleep apnea six-fold.) At the least, losing weight is certainly important for healthy blood pressure and for reducing the risk for diabetes.
Smoking and Alcohol
In general, drugs have not been very beneficial except for specific situations. Using medications for treating accompanying disorders that may be associated with sleep apnea may be helpful. The following may be helpful for certain patients:
Note on Sedatives. Sedatives, narcotics, and anti-anxiety drugs can actually worsen the breathing disturbances and arousal conditions that occur with sleep apnea These substances cause the soft tissues in the throat to sag and diminish the body's ability to inhale. Apnea sufferers should stay away from sleeping pills and tranquilizers completely. Apnea patients undergoing surgery should be sure that their surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other physicians are aware of their sleeping disorder in considering sedatives, anesthetics, and medications taken to relieve pain due to surgery.