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Untreated or poorly treated sleep apnea leaves you tired all the time and suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness and other sleep apnea symptoms. Use of the continuous positive airway pressure device or CPAP mask has been the gold standard of cures for sleep apnea over the past 25 years. But because of the discomfort of wearing the device, 20 to 50 percent of those who try it cannot tolerate this sleep apnea cure. Fortunately there are alternative ways for how to cure sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder, affecting 3 percent to 7 percent of the population. In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway narrows and/or collapses, and individuals stop breathing for brief, repeated periods throughout the night. This causes reductions in the body’s oxygen levels and disrupts normal sleep cycles. People with sleep apnea usually snore loudly and partners may witness “apnea” episodes which often interrupt the snoring and end with a snort.
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Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Excessive daytime sleepiness is not as significant as the sleep apnea symptoms of low energy and fatigue. The constant sleep disruptions and lack of oxygen throughout the night are what cause such daytime sleep apnea symptoms as feeling tired all the time.
While “excessive daytime sleepiness” is the most common of the sleep apnea symptoms studied by researchers, it is not necessarily as significant as the general lack of energy and fatigue. When sleep apnea patients were asked to choose their most significant symptom in one study, 40 percent of patients chose lack of energy, compared with 22 percent for sleepiness. So this means one of the best ways you can detect if you have true sleep apnea is to assess your level of energy during waking hours.
Other daytime sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Morning headaches
- Dry or sore throat
- Decreased short term memory
- Decreased concentration
- Morning confusion, personality and mood changes
- Depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Inability to make decisions
- Decreased libido
- Falling asleep while driving
These problems, combined with lack of daytime energy, puts sleep apnea sufferers at a significantly higher risk of having difficulties at work or school and of having a motor vehicle accident.
Sleep Apnea Can Increase the Risk for Serious Diseases
Being tired would be bad enough, but sadly there is a strong association between obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea directly increases your risk for having high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, and stroke. Untreated sleep apnea is also associated with increases in insulin resistance, GERD, cognitive difficulties, and overall risk of death.
An overnight sleep apnea test, called polysomnography, is required to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. This recording of sleep and breathing usually involves in-laboratory measurement of brain waves and arousals, eye movements, chin movements, airflow, respiratory effort, oxygen levels, electrocardiographic (ECG) tracings, body position, snoring, and leg movements.
CPAP: Solution or Problem?
The most common and effective conventional treatment for obstructive sleep apnea symptoms is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which provides a steady stream of air through a mask that is worn during sleep. This airflow keeps the airway open to prevent pauses in breathing and restore normal oxygen levels. Patients will often report feeling dramatically better after beginning treatment.
Studies show that treatment with CPAP reduces excessive daytime fatigue, and increases energy. A randomized controlled trial in 2011 specifically looked at fatigue and found that three weeks of CPAP therapy significantly reduced fatigue scores to the point that participants were no longer suffering from clinically significant levels of fatigue after the three-week intervention period. Self-reported energy levels also increased significantly.
Some individuals simply cannot tolerate CPAP as a sleep apnea treatment option because of nasal congestion and the pressure felt because of the high flow of air created by the device. Other conventional sleep apnea solutions include surgery or a sleep apnea mouth guard, known as “mandibular advancement devices” or splints.
Oral appliances, which hold the mandible in a protruded position during sleep, are increasingly used for mild to moderate sleep apnea symptoms, as well as in more severe patients who are unable to tolerate or refuse CPAP. Although oral devices generally do not work as well as CPAP in reducing the actual number of episodes and increasing oxygen, they do help with sleep apnea symptoms and increase energy in sleep apnea patients. Studies have found that overall improvements and outcomes seem comparable with both types of treatment.[4,5]
How to Cure Sleep Apnea for Those Who Cannot Tolerate the CPAP
If you think you might have sleep apnea, it is imperative that you get diagnosed and treated, given the severe health risks associated with this disorder. If you’re already being treated for your sleep apnea but are still fatigued, you’re not alone. Additional sleep apnea remedies are available. Here are four sleep apnea cures without CPAP:
1. Healthy Diet and Exercise
Natural remedies for sleep apnea symptoms center on healthy foods, exercise, and weight loss (if needed). Studies show individuals with sleep apnea who have obesity may no longer require CPAP when they lose weight, and may even experience a total cure of their sleep apnea and fatigue.[6,7] In one study, for instance, a 12-week weight-loss program based on diet and exercise was shown to significantly decrease daytime sleepiness and fatigue in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. (Read about green tea for weight loss here.)
Exercising four times a week by doing something moderately aerobic for about 40 minutes, following by some weight training two days a week, also has been shown to significantly improve sleep apnea and the feeling of being tired all the time, even if you do not lose weight.
2. Antioxidant Supplements
Aside from diet and exercise, natural remedies for sleep apnea should focus on increasing antioxidant capacity. Why? Sleep apnea is associated with oxidative stress, the excessive build-up of free radicals. It is also associated with decreased antioxidant capacity (ability of the body to counter oxidative stress) and decreased blood levels of various antioxidants, such as vitamin E and carotenoids (such as beta-carotene).
The excessive oxidative stress associated with sleep apnea then leads to what is known as “endothelial dysfunction,” in which the blood vessels do not properly relax and contract. Endothelial dysfunction is the primary mechanism causing atherosclerosis, heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Various types of antioxidant supplements have been researched as treatments and found to be beneficial as natural remedies for sleep apnea.
The three most researched antioxidants are vitamins C and E, and the compound n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC).[12,13] Taking an antioxidant formula containing these compounds along with mixed carotenoids may be beneficial.
Another supplement that may be helpful for those with sleep apnea symptoms is an omega-3, such as fish oil especially one which has been formulated to by highly concentrated in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.
Low omega-three levels, especially DHA levels, are related to more severe sleep apnea (higher apnea-hypopnea indices). Omega-3 fats are one of the top natural remedies for sleep apnea because they protect cells against stress; sleep apnea causes long-term oxidative stress and puts severe demands on the body which is thought to deplete the omega-three levels.
Taking an omega-3 fish oil with concentrated levels of DHA may improve sleep apnea symptoms while improving your cardiovascular health.
4. Vitamin D
One last vitamin is worth mentioning when it comes to natural remedies for sleep apnea symptoms. Vitamin D levels have been found to be lower in patients with sleep apnea compared to those without the disorder.
Vitamin D deficiency has been found to be particularly prevalent in those sleep apnea patients who also have issues with blood sugar and insulin regulation, including those with diabetes, prediabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.[14,15] The more severe the sleep apnea symptoms and blood sugar dysregulation, the lower the vitamin D levels.
Treatment with vitamin D may help ameliorate the blood sugar disturbances and inflammation associated with insulin resistance in sleep apnea patients. Even if you do not have poor blood sugar metabolism, it is strongly recommended that you make sure your vitamin D levels are optimal by taking at least 2000 IU of vitamin D daily and having your blood levels checked yearly. This is because vitamin D deficiency is so common and linked to so many sleep apnea symptoms, including mood disturbances and muscle pain. Many patients report relief from feeling so tired all the time when their vitamin D levels are optimally treated.
Sleep apnea is just one of many possible underlying causes of fatigue. To learn more natural remedies for beating fatigue, view our resources on the topic.
Share Your Experience on How to Cure Sleep Apnea
If you’ve managed to stop sleep apnea, what has worked for you? Give us your experience with sleep apnea solutions, especially if you’re one of those who cannot tolerate the CPAP machine. Are there any natural sleep apnea home remedies that you currently use? What natural sleep apnea cures have worked for you? Is there some device that helps prevent or reduce your symptoms? Share with others in the “Comments” section below so they can begin to cure sleep apnea and start feeling better too.
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This article was originally published in 2013 and is regularly updated.