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The Best Treatments for Sleep Apnea

It is estimated that more than 70 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from a sleep disorder—leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare sleep disorders a public health epidemic. After insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common of these disorders, affecting an estimated 22 million Americans.

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.”

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 treatments

With sleep apnea, 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 most effective ways to treat sleep apnea:

CPAP therapy: It’s most likely that your primary care physician or sleep specialist will prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which has been shown to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. The CPAP machine forces mild air pressure down the throat to keep the upper airway passages open with a mask worn throughout the night. However, about half of people who begin it 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.

Surgery: 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, which stiffen the soft palate so that it’s less likely to come into contact with the back wall of the pharynx, as well as surgeries to address tongue advancement, tongue base reduction and lower jaw advancement. Finally, a tracheostomy is an option for especially sick OSA patients.

Oral appliance therapy: If your sleep apnea is mild, a custom-fit oral appliance may be used to address both your sleep apnea and snoring, as 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—as will the objective. For example, 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, but it can hinder productivity at work, the quality of our 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.

As you work toward better, more consistent sleep, we encourage you to learn more about the SoClean Automated PAP Cleaner & Sanitizer Device. And if you have any questions, please reach us at info@soclean.com or (800) 341-7014.