It is estimated that more than 50-70 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from a sleep disorder. After insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common of these disorders, affecting an estimated 22 million Americans.
Undiagnosed Sleep Disorders
Because sleep disorders occur when a person is sleeping, 80 percent of people who have moderate or severe OSA are unaware, undiagnosed, and untreated, according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, if you are among the 20 percent—or roughly 4.4 million people in the U.S.—who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea by a doctor or sleep specialist, you are likely anxious to begin a treatment that will allow you to wake in the morning finally feeling well rested.
The Most Effective Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
As Dr. Atul Malhotra, director of sleep medicine at the University of California San Diego, explains, “If you’re lying asleep at night and I came and shook you every minute or two, you’d wake up feeling very tired. With sleep apnea, your sleep gets fragmented, so you get sleepiness, lack of energy, and an inability to concentrate.”
With OSA, the muscles that control a person’s breathing don’t work properly during sleep, causing the partial or total blockage of airways. This means that breathing stops and starts throughout the night. For that reason, the objective of any effective sleep apnea treatment will be to facilitate an open airway. Here are some of the most common and effective ways to treat sleep apnea.
If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, there’s a good chance that your primary care physician or sleep specialist will prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. These machines have been shown to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.
The CPAP machine uses a mask to force mild air pressure down the throat to keep the upper airway passages open throughout the night. However, about half of the people who begin CPAP therapy will eventually abandon it. Experts say it’s important to give yourself time to warm up to the therapy, as troubleshooting and patience during the adjustment process can make a world of difference in compliance over time.
The American Sleep Apnea Association also encourages patients to take special care to identify the best combination of the three CPAP components—the CPAP device, CPAP heated humidifier, and CPAP mask— with the comfort of your mask being of primary importance.
For those who have trouble complying with CPAP therapy, your doctor may suggest surgery on the site of obstruction in your airway. This could be the nose, tongue, or throat. The most common surgical procedure for sleep-disordered breathing is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (more commonly known as UPPP). During this procedure the surgeon may remove excess tissue from the soft palate, pharynx, and tonsils.
Additional surgical options include soft palate implants, as well as surgeries that address tongue advancement, tongue base reduction, and lower jaw advancement. Soft palate implants stiffen the soft palate to reduce the chance of it coming into contact with the back wall of the pharynx. For OSA patients considered to be in very poor health, a tracheostomy is another treatment option.
Oral Sleep Apnea Devices
If your sleep apnea is mild, a custom-fit oral appliance may be used to address both your sleep apnea and snoring. These appliances are excellent at getting your mouth and jaw in the optimal position during sleep. If this is the best option for you, your doctor will write a prescription and then refer you to a dentist who is trained to fit oral appliances.
Diet and Lifestyle Modifications
Obesity is a strong predictor of OSA, which is why it’s no surprise that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends dietary-induced weight loss and exercise as lifestyle treatment options for OSA. However, the type of diet and exercise program recommended will vary from doctor to doctor. Some physicians will stress improving the overall quality of your diet rather than suggesting a diet that results in weight loss. One recent study on this subject concluded that while diets and exercise are certainly beneficial to treat OSA, they’re most effective when done in concert with CPAP treatment.
It may take a bit of trial and error to find the OSA treatment that ultimately works best for you. However, the effort is worth the reward, as effective treatment can have an enormous impact on your wellbeing and quality of life. Not only does poor sleep elevate our risk of obesity, diabetes and depression, it can also hinder productivity at work, the quality of your personal relationships, and your response time behind the wheel of a car. Finding your way to a better night’s sleep may well be among the best gifts you can give yourself.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can be an easy, convenient way to find out. Lunella allows consumers to take a sleep apnea test from the comfort of their own home and receive a proper data-driven diagnosis from a board-certified sleep physician and a prescription for treatment, if necessary.
This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.