Sleep Apnea Treatment 101: All You Need To Know
“I’m new to sleep apnea treatment. Any advice?”
- Are you having trouble sleeping at night and think that it’s time to see your GP?
- Have you seen a sleep professional, and they’ve talked to you about sleep apnea?
- Or, have you actually begun treatment?
This article is for you.
At ResSleep, we recommend that you take the time to research about sleep apnea and its treatment, so you can familiarise yourself with the condition to make you feel more comfortable – no matter what stage you’re at.
After all, knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better the whole experience will be for you.
However, we understand that learning all about it can be quite time consuming and overwhelming, which is why we decided to put all the information in one article, so you can read through all the basics to get you started on your journey to a better night’s sleep.
What is sleep apnea?
First things first!
Sleep apnea (also spelled Sleep Apnoea) is a sleep disorder where your natural breathing pattern is interrupted or briefly paused while you sleep. There are a few different causes, but the most common is when the muscles which control the upper airway in your throat relax too much during sleep. If this happens, the upper airway narrows and you may begin to snore or take shallow breaths. If the airway narrows even further, it may become completely blocked and you will temporarily stop breathing.
This is known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
In response, your body will rouse you with a cough, a choke or a snort to restore the airway passage and resume normal breathing again. Often, this disturbance is so brief that you won’t fully wake or even remember it the following morning.
If this was to happen once or twice, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue; however, people with sleep apnea have this occur several hundreds of times a night. This constant lack of oxygen combined with the continual disruption to your sleep patterns over and over again leads to a poor quality sleep every night.
If left untreated, it can put you at risk of other more serious health complications, which is why treatment is available and should be considered.
What can cause sleep apnea?
While everyone is different, in general, the following are known to contribute to sleep apnea:
- Throat muscle weakness
- Excessive fat in or around the throat due to obesity
- Nasal obstruction or congestion
- Relaxant alcohol or drugs
- Sleeping on your back
- Swollen tissue such as adenoids or tonsils
- Sleeping medication
- Older age
- Smaller upper airways
- Shape of your head and neck
What are the symptoms?
Because you don’t usually remember waking that many times each hour while you’re sleeping, the only way to suspect you may have sleep apnea is either:
- Your partner or friends overhear you choking or snoring excessively each time you go to bed, or
- You experience a combination of the following symptoms
- Daily fatigue
- Excessive sleepiness
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Low energy
- Waking up unrefreshed
- Morning headaches
- Depressed or negative moods
Ongoing symptoms like this not only become frustrating, they can point towards sleep apnea.
It is recommended that you see a GP at this point, so they can diagnose you correctly. Left untreated, sleep apnea can affect your health.
How does sleep apnea affect your health?
Sleep is an essential part of maintaining both our physical and mental health.
The interruptions to your breathing over and over again during the night can mean that you aren’t getting enough quality sleep. This can lead to irritability and illness which can impact your quality of life, career and relationships.
People suffering from sleep apnea undertake treatment to eliminate the general symptoms that affect their daily lives, while significantly reducing the risk of the more serious complications.
It is recommended to seek professional advice about sleep apnea solutions as soon as possible to avoid ongoing and increasing health issues.
How is sleep apnea treated?
There are four common sleep apnea treatment options to help alleviate symptoms and restore your healthy sleep routine.
Your Sleep Professional or GP will discuss which option is best for your circumstances.
- Positive airway pressure therapy
A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) machine is a device with a a mask attached that you wear whilst you sleep.It delivers a constant stream of air from a pump through a tube to your mask, to keep your passageways open. This allows you to sleep better by eliminating the need for your body to continually wake all throughout the night to restore normal breathing.
CPAP is an effective and non-invasive treatment that is the most commonly prescribed option, due to its track record of successful results.
An Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (or APAP) machine is a device very similar to the above, however it automatically varies its air pressure throughout the night in response to a person’s needs, making treatment more tailored and comfortable.
Bilevel therapy is typically used when someone needs a particularly higher pressure for effective treatment.
- Oral appliance therapy
A Mandibular Repositioning Device (or MRD) is a non-invasive, custom-fitted mouthpiece that holds your jaw in a forward position while you sleep to expand the space behind your tongue. This helps keep your upper airway open, preventing apneas and snoring. They’re proven effective for people with mild and moderate obstructive sleep apnea, who cannot tolerate CPAP.
There are several surgical procedures that can improve the exact area of obstruction in your upper respiratory tracts, however this is less common because, as with all invasive surgical procedures, there is the risk of negative side effects.
- Lifestyle changes
Losing weight, avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking are all more general ways to treat sleep apnea by reducing the potential contributing causes.
For example, in some patients with milder forms of sleep apnea, losing weight can help reduce the disruptive breathing throughout the night and alleviate the symptoms.
The benefits of sleep apnea treatment
Learning that you have diagnosable sleep apnea and having to undergo treatment can be an overwhelming time that may make you anxious.
However, you don’t need to be too concerned.
When your prescribed treatment option restores your healthy sleep patterns and you begin to rest well again each night, you’ll feel like a new you! The benefits of reducing sleep apnea symptoms will allow you to reclaim your quality of life and will quickly outweigh any negatives you may experience.
Nevertheless, here are some ways to make your treatment much more manageable.
How to cope best with treatment
If you have a CPAP machine as a part of your sleep apnea therapy, both consistency and compliance of use are the two most important ways that you can maximise its efficacy to get a better night’s sleep.
Consistency comes from using the machine during every sleep as instructed, and compliance means using it as intended.
To help you get adjusted to this, here are a few tips.
- Ease yourself in gently
Some people can find the CPAP machine’s hum difficult to ignore, or the mask intrusive. So instead of immediately strapping it to your face and turning on the air on the first night, perhaps simply hold it to your face first and wait a few moments to become more comfortable.
Next, turn on the pressurised airstream and slowly acclimatise yourself to that sensation and the noise too. After this, the next step is to finally strap the headgear on and see how you feel.
The use of stages helps ease you into getting comfortable with the mask through gradual introduction.
- Your CPAP mask
Fitting your mask well is an important part of your treatment. Small adjustments can make all the difference to comfort and effectiveness, so ask your Sleep Professional to show you the best way to put on your mask. This way, you can fit it perfectly to the contours of your face, the way it is designed to be.
Then practise at home before bed in front of a mirror to get a good seal and put you at ease. After all, you won’t be able to sleep if you’re uncomfortable.
For more information on CPAP masks, click here.
- Involve your partner
If you share a bed with a partner, it’s important to involve them. After all, you’ll be wearing a mask into bed and turning on a machine all night as you both sleep!
Explain how the device works, and what it does for you. You may even have them help you with the mask when you need it. This will put you both at ease and make the treatment become a natural routine.
- Maintain your regular sleep hygiene
This means that you should maintain healthy habits when it comes to sleeping, such as listening to your body’s internal clock to judge when you’re ready for sleep, and when you are not.
In addition, have a good mattress and pillow to ensure you are comfortable, and don’t consume stimulants like coffee before bed, as they can make it difficult to fall asleep.
Maintaining the right temperature at night also plays an important role. You can read more about this in our blog: ‘how does temperature affect sleep?’
Having a dark room at night is crucial for a good night’s sleep, too. For more information, read our blog: ‘why darkness matters’.
- Be relaxed before you go to bed
It’s hard enough to go to sleep with a busy, racing or worried mind, let alone throwing in your therapy machine and mask. Instead, just before you head to bed, listen to some calming music, meditate, take a bath, or read a book.
This will put you in the right state of mind, before equipping your machine and snuggling in.
- Use the automated ‘ramp’ mode on your CPAP machine
Many CPAP devices now come equipped with a Sleep Onset Detection feature, where the machine will begin at a low pressure and won’t ramp up to the prescribed pressure until it detects that you have fallen asleep.
This means that, while you are lying in bed with the headgear on, you won’t feel the full pressure of the air until after you have drifted off and no longer actively aware when the oxygen increases. This can greatly ease the uncomfortable feeling, while ensuring your treatment is effective.
- Breathing to drift off
Once you have done all the above, and you are lying in bed, the last thing to do is some breathing techniques. Take calm, slow breaths in and out, while actively concentrating on the gentle sound. After about ten repetitions, you will feel completely relaxed and should nod off to get the peaceful sleep you deserve.
Sleep apnea treatment is worth it
We hope that you are now feeling empowered about sleep apnea treatment and are ready to take your next step in restoring quality sleep to improve your health and well-being.
Remember, it takes a while for most people to get comfortable with treatment. Be very patient with yourself. Doing all of the above steps will give you a good chance of being successful and reclaiming your quality of life.
How a Free Sleep Assessment can help you
If you are experiencing problems getting enough quality sleep and you believe it may be sleep apnea, you may wish to consider undertaking a free online sleep assessment to better understand how to improve your restful state and your overall health.
The assessment only takes 60 seconds and asks you a series of simple questions designed to help you uncover the cause, then conveniently sends the results to you via an email.
You can access the Sleep Assessment here:
- ResSleep. What is sleep apnea? https://www.ressleep.com.au/sleep-apnea/. Accessed 6/1/2018
- Meurice et al. ORCADES: A prospective cohort study of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) patients receiving second-line treatment with a mandibular repositioning device (MRD). Eur Resp J 2013;42(57):1056S.
- American Sleep Association. http://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/treatment-options/surgery.html. Accessed 6/1/2018.
- ResMed. Sleep Apnea Treatment Options. https://www.resmed.com/au/en/consumer/diagnosis-and-treatment/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea-treatment/sleep-apnea-treatment-options.html. Accessed 6/1/2018.