The discomfort and aggravation of snoring is well known to most people but fewer are aware of the major problems that may occur with sleep apnea. The risks associated with apnea go far beyond noise and irritation and in extreme cases sleep apnea can result in heart attacks or strokes. It can also contribute to increased stress levels, faster aging, daytime sleepiness and drowsiness, and other health problems such as sexual dysfunction.
A person who has the symptoms mentioned above may not even be aware of their sleep apnea problem. They may struggle to breath throughout their sleeping hours but may not become awake enough to realize their problem. Often, sufferers of sleep apnea go through their lives thinking that their daytime tiredness and other problems are normal.
There are a number of sites about snoring and sleep apnea that provide some information and offer some products and advice that may be helpful but it seems that few of them go beyond the basics. It is the purpose of this site to offer some alternatives and provide some feedback on a few of these products.
Snoring is most often caused by vibrations of the softer tissues in the throat and nasal passages as air passes through during sleep. This occurs during sleep because these tissues relax along with adjoining muscle tissues. Often, as we age, the body relaxes even more than when we were younger. Snoring also increases with fatty build up as we gain weight.
If we continue to gain weight and the soft tissues relax even more, the skin in these areas may even close up the throat or nasal passages. The tongue may relax and fall back into the throat. When these air passages are blocked, we stop breathing. Carbon dioxide builds up in the body and oxygen is depleted. At this point, if we are lucky, the body reacts almost waking up and gasping for air. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea.
Not all sleep apnea is obstructive, however. Another, rarer type of sleep apnea is referred to as central sleep apnea because it is generally a failure of the central nervous system. In this case, the brain forgets to tell the body to breathe or the signal becomes blocked as it travels along the nerves. Other cases may be a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be reduced or eliminated with the proper help. Since it is often the result of being overweight, the first action that can be beneficial is to loose weight. Since this can take months or years to accomplish, it should be started as soon as possible but other steps need to be taken to avert potential disaster.
There are many companies offering aids to help reduce sleep apnea, some of them being very beneficial while others may be useless except in a few cases. There are also things that a person can do to help reduce the problem without buying a thing.
Here are some books about snoring, apnea, sleep problems, and other health problems. Health books
Aids for sleep apnea can be separated into several types according to function and usage. Various devices, procedures, and substances are available to increase the opening of the nasal and throat passages as well as shrinking and tightening the tissues. Some of these are simple and cheap while others may require surgery or significant expense.
One of the main causes of sleep apnea and snoring is excessive weight gain. Most people start these problems after gaining weight so the first sensible step is to loose weight. Often easier said than done.
As we age, our bodies tend to produce less of certain hormones each year. One of these hormones is the sleep hormone, Melatonin. Melatonin is not only important to sleep regulation but it is crucial to achieving sound sleep and to maintaining good immunity. An excellent book about melatonin and sleep is Melatonin Miracle: Nature's Age Reversing, Disease Fighting, ... . I have found that using melatonin not only helps reduce my snoring, but it even reduces my sleep apnea. I have also noted that the longer I take it, the better the results. Melatonin improves sleep, including more REM sleep, which is important. It is not like sleeping pills that can make you drowsy and have negative side effects. Melatonin is a natural hormone that your body produces when you are young but decreases as you age. As you sleep, melatonin is also metabolized to produce other hormones that your body needs, giving you extra benefits. At the age of 40, it is often recommended to take 1 mg or more nightly. At the age of 50, 3mg or more is considered normal. Some individuals take as much as 10 to 20 mg without any negative effects. Recent information also reveals that melatonin does not just improve healing but that it can actually reduce diabetes. There are other books on sleep and sleep disorders on our Health books page.
Some of the simple products can be home made as well as being available on the store shelves. For some products such as the elastic and cloth wraps that hold the mouth closed forcing the subject to breath through the nose will significantly reduce snoring and possibly sleep apnea occurrences as well. These devices can be made from old socks sewn together or commercially made ones can be bought for a reasonable price. They will work for some persons who do not have an obstructed nasal passage and can breath freely through the nose.
A commercial chin lifting unit is called the Sleep Angel. I have heard of several unresolved customer complaints on this product. Another product is called Chin Up Strips and sells for $13.00 US per pack of 30. These are adhesive strips that try to hold the chin closed in order to promote breathing through the nose. I have not tried the Chin Ups. Breath Right nasal strips can help open up the nasal passages for some. These were only slightly helpful to me.
Snoring tends to be more common when sleeping on the back and can sometimes be reduced by sleeping on the side. One method is to sew a tennis ball into the back of a sleeping shirt. Another product to keep you from sleeping on your back is a pillow that has a hole in it to place your arm through. This keeps the sleeper on his or her side and helps reduce snoring and apnea problems in some cases. My problem used to be reduced by sleeping on my side but this does not seem to help much lately.
One device that I like is a slant pillow which keeps the sleeper inclined. For some reason, I sometimes snore less and have fewer sleep apnea episodes when my head and upper body is inclined. I found this out a few years back when I fell asleep on the sofa. I was told that I hardly snored at all when sleeping elevated on the sofa. I tried inclining the bed about 3 inches at the head end and it helped some but not sufficiently. If your sleep apnea is not extensive, you might try raising the head end of the bed a few inches. You can simply make a lift by stacking 3 or 4 short lengths of 2 by 4 lumber under the bedposts at the head end of the bed. This will raise the head 3 to 4 inches. Adding the inclined pillow helped a lot. The pillow that I use raises the head about 7 inches. It works great but the problem is that during the night, I will tend to slide down to a more horizontal position. The problem is that the length of the pillow is too short as it is only about 3 feet long. I think that it would work better if it was 10 ro 12 inches longer.
Most of my snoring has been due to breathing through the mouth, so a mouth piece should help. I have a couple of different ones and they vary in effectiveness and comfort. I have not drawn any conclusions about some of these as of yet, so bookmark this page and check back. One that I used is the Breath Mate that sells for $9.99. It was not comfortable to me and I felt that it was also a possible strangualtion hazzard for me. The piece is small and flexible enough that if I opened my mouth wide and inhaled, it could fly back to my throat. Another unit that I tried is SnorBan for $63.99 Canadian. It is a nice device that slips over the teeth and forces the lower jaw forward. Sadly, when I am asleep, my mouth opens wider than the prosthesis, so that I just breath around it. It is a good unit but just did not work for me. Of course, it is not for sleep apnea.
When the devices listed above fail to help, then some more serious alternatives must be considered. There are several oral prostheses or surgical procedures that may be considered. The prostheses are often implanted by a dentist and can range from stiffening rods and tubes in the throat to pins and rods that force the jaws forward or even surgery to remove excess tissue from the throat and sinus areas.
Rhinoplasty is surgery to open up the nasal passages which can be occluded by a deviated septum. Often, at the same time, the surgeon will remove any excess tissue from around the nasal passages and sinus area. Rhinoplasty worked very well for me but only lasted for a few months. For many others, it has produced long term relief. On consideration of surgery that you must think about is the effect of anesthesia. Occasionally, the anesthesia can cause problems that may continue after the surgery. In rare cases, patients will not wake up after surgery or may have mental impairment.
Somnoplasty is the application of low levels of radio frequency energy to tissues which generates enough heat to burn some of the underlying soft tissues, hopefully without damaging the mucosa.
At my last visit with a new ENT doctor, I found that I had developed scar tissue after my last rhinoplasty and this tissue, along with swelling in my turbinate tissues are obstructing my breathing. This is a major problem for me and have set up an appointment to undergo somnoplastic treatment to hopefully reduce the problem. I will post the results soon.
A short while back, I fell off of a retaining wall (not very high) and twisted my back. The pain was bad enough that I went to the chiropractor to get adjusted. After examining my xrays, he told me that my neck was out of alignment so I asked if that would have an effect on my snoring and sleep apnea. His response was that many people who have snoring and sleep apnea problems also have neck alignment problems. After only two adjustments, both snoring and apnea episodes are significantly reduced. It is amazing to me how quickly effective this was for me. I am still having the sonoplasty soon so stay tuned.
The chiropractic adjustments to correct my neck curvature have been a godsend and I have not had very much sleep apnea and the snoring is very reduced. My sleeping is much better and I feel more rested during the day.
The chripractic adjustments lasted for several months and I had very few episodes of snoring or sleep apnea. Unfortunately, this ended late October when I developed serious neck alignment problems and sleep apnea returned with a vengance. After several adjustments, my neck alignment is improving as is the apnea and snoring problem. Still not gone, however.
The sonoplasty has had some problems but has improved my nasal breathing somewhat. I did develope a nasty infection (possibly Staph Aureus, very bright yellow) that did not respond well at all to antibiotics. I had to use my zapper to get rid of it, which worked immediately. This might have been MRSA, but was not diagnosed as such. The improvement has been very noticible at times, but I still have swelling at other times as it has only been three weeks and has not had time to completely take effect. The sonoplasty also seemed to work somewhat in improving the ability to breathe through my nose, but the relief was not extensive and has diminished over time.
Weight loss and hormones
As I stated earlier, loosing weight is easier to suggest than to accomplished. However, since my apnea was so severe and I did not want to use a CPAP, I decided to loose weight. At my worst, I weighed a bit over 200 pounds and this is when my apnea got really bad. Even loosing down to 170 pounds did not reduce the apnea by any significant amount. I continued to work at loosing weight and also improving my physique. Once I got my weight down below 148, my apnea started getting noticibly better. Finally, at 143 pounds, it was significantly improved. What I consider to be a most important aspect of apnea is the loss of muscle tone in the neck and throat area. I had my DHEA levels tested and they were very low so now, I take enough to optimize my DHEA and I am much healthier with more vim and vigor than I have had in quite some time. Also, testosterone is important in muscle tone as are several amino acids.
While my apnea has not completely gone away, I am much better even though I am back up to 150. I may try to lose back down some more.
As my weight varies, the extent of both my snoring and my sleep apnea vary, so I really believe that keeping a healthy weight is a very important aspect to controlling this issue.
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