Sleep apnea or the inability to breathe properly while sleeping is one of the biggest sleep disorders, even ahead of insomnia. It is estimated that nearly 1 billion people suffer from sleep apnea symptoms as heavy snoring, disturbed sleep and constant fatigue.
Usually the symptoms of sleep disordered breathing are mixed with other health conditions. Also people, who struggle to breathe while sleeping often do not remember about their sleeping and breathing problems in the night.
That’s why patients with sleep apnea often suffer for multiple years till a proper diagnosis is made. This not only makes sleep apnea symptoms worse, but also risks the overall health of the patient.
However, you can save yourself and your loved ones from all the misery by acting early.
If you know of anyone, who constantly looks tired despite them telling you they slept enough, you should warn them about the possibility of sleep apnea or prompt them to look into the root cause of their sleeping issues.
And this post will tell you how to do that.
In this post, we are going to look into sleep apnea, what is it, symptoms, signs and Ayurvedic natural solutions to find relief from it. Let’s get started!
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What is Sleep Apnea?
When we say ‘sleep’, everyone knows what it is. ‘Apnea’ might be the newcomer here. Apnea means the cessation of breath. A person with sleep apnea stops or struggles to breathe while sleeping.
Breathing struggles in sleep apnea can cause symptoms as loud snoring, choking noises, poor sleep and feelings of fatigue and anxiety during the day.
You can see that this is potentially worrisome!
Imagine how scary it would be to have your breath cease in the middle of your sleep. You could wake up gasping for air!
And perhaps also struggle to sleep out of the fear of not being able to breathe.
Not only your sleep gets interrupted. But, you will also not be able to get into that deeply rested state of sleep.
That’s why it is quite common for people with breathing problems during sleep to feel fatigued, irritated and disoriented as if they haven’t slept enough.
Thankfully, there are natural solutions for sleep apnea symptoms that you can adopt with Ayurvedic medicine.
3 Types of Sleep Apnea | Causes, Symptoms and Health Risks
There are two types of sleep apnea, primarily. Then there is a third type that combines the first two.
We will now consider these types of sleep apnea; what causes them; the symptoms they present with; and what are the risk factors for developing sleep apnea.
1. Obstructive sleep Apnea (OSA)
This is the most common type. It occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked or obstructed, while a person is sleeping. This thus reduces or completely stops the flow of air to the lungs.
Thus, the person stops breathing temporarily when it gets completely blocked. He or she wakes up with gasps.
If however the obstruction is not complete, then the supply of air to lungs is significantly reduced while sleeping. This causes them to snore, breathe through the mouth or shows alternative signs as feeling tired even after sleeping sufficient hours.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs because the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses. Thus, it blocks the airway, preventing breathing.
People with sleep OSA may stop or struggle to breathe hundreds of times in the night. Breathing can stop for as long as a minute or even more. Usually, the person with OSA does not remember that they were struggling to breathe while sleeping.
What causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
OSA occurs when the muscles at the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the other structures in that region, including the tonsils, soft palate, tongue, and sidewalls of the throat.
Now, when those muscles are relaxed, the said structures lose their support. That makes them prone to ‘falling into the airway.’ Consequently, when you breathe in, your airway narrows or closes off altogether.
What puts you at risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
The risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea are as follows:
- Excessive weight: Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea. Fat can get deposited around the upper airway area and block breath. The risk of sleep apnea in women increases if they’re overweight.
- Greater neck circumference: A thicker neck can put you at risk of sleep apnea. This is because a thicker neck could mean there’s a smaller space left for the airway.
- A narrower airway: Your airway can also be narrower from birth.
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids: These are both structures at the back of the neck. They can be enlarged and block the airway, causing sleep apnea in children, mostly.
- Age: Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults. Post-menopausal women are at a greater risk also.
- Nasal congestion: You’re more likely to develop OSA if you have difficulty breathing through your nose.
- Smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers: They contain substances that relax muscles. If the muscles in your throat get relaxed, it can put you at a greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
- Family history: Sleep apnea can be genetic. So, if you have a family member with sleep apnea, it’s likely you will also experience it.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can result in obstructive sleep apnea, either directly or indirectly. They include:
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Hormonal disorders (e.g. Polycystic ovary syndrome)
- Prior stroke
- Chronic lung diseases (e.g. asthma).
2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Unlike OSA which is a problem with the throat itself, in Central Sleep Apnea, the throat/airway is okay.
However, the problem is with the brain or the pathways through which the brain communicates with the throat. It is the less common of the two types of sleep apnea.
What causes Central Sleep Apnea?
There is a respiratory center in your brain that controls breathing. The airways need to receive signals from there to function well. Unfortunately, this respiratory center could be faulty.
As a result, the appropriate signals are not sent to the respiratory system and the breathing muscles. This could then result in slower and shallower breathing. It could even cause a ceased breath too.
Risk factors for Central Sleep Apnea?
Who is more likely to have CSA? What makes a person prone to experiencing CSA?
- Age: Middle-aged and older people have a higher risk of central sleep apnea.
- Heart problems: Having congestive heart failure increases the risk.
- Stroke: People who have had a stroke increase their risk of central sleep apnea or treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.
- Narcotics: Narcotic pain medications increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
- Alcohol abuse: Excessive consumption of alcohol also puts you at risk of CSA
3. Complex or Mixed Sleep Apnea
You can tell from the name. This type of sleep apnea combines both of the first two. The airway is obstructed, and the brain fails to send signals too.
It is also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. The causes and risks are the same as those that have been listed prior.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Warning Signs
Whether obstructive, central, or mixed; sleep apnea symptoms will invariably arise. There are those symptoms that you will know, whereas there are others that you may even be aware of.
For those symptoms that you aren’t aware of, other people may be aware of them. These are the direct symptoms, when sleep apnea has progressed to moderate or severe stage.
- Loud snoring
- You stop breathing for a while and then draw in a noisy breath
- Loud gasps while sleeping
These all occur while sleeping, therefore you may not be conscious of them.
Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea
Aside from those, other indirect symptoms of sleep apnea are as given. These can be considered to be the warning signs of mild to moderate sleep apnea.
- Restless sleep or insomnia;
- Brain Fog or Impaired concentration power;
- Limited attention span or difficulty thinking clearly;
- Frequent need to wake up to urinate (nocturia);
- Morning headaches;
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat;
- Excessive daytime sleepiness;
- Mood and behavioral changes;
- Decreased libido;
- Fluctuation in the oxygen levels.
- Increased heart rate.
- Glucose intolerance and insulin resistance
Sleep Apnea in Women
Women are less likely to struggle with severe sleep apnea symptoms as the structure of upper respiratory tract in women is slightly different. It makes them less prone to acute symptoms or complete obstruction of the respiratory tract.
However, women increasingly suffer from sleep apnea with age and weight problems. Usually, they will fall in the category of mild to moderate sleep apnea. Here are some symptoms that can be observed:
- Mouth Breathing during sleep
- Light snoring
- Gasping and breathing difficulty (less severe) during sleep
Health Complications and Risks when Sleep Apnea is not Treated
Aside from these sleep apnea symptoms, insufficient air during sleep can create health complications in the long run.
If left untreated, sleep apnea symptoms can worsen off and create chronic conditions that put your health and life at risk. Your body will be negatively impacted in many ways.
As if that was not enough, even those around you will bear the brunt of it. Here are the health risks that you need to be aware of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems like heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks
- Type II diabetes
- Worsening of ADHD
- Sleep-deprived partners
- Liver problems
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Breathing masks and devices can help to control sleep apnea symptoms and improve your sleep in the short term. Hence, you should consider using them to support your recovery from sleep apnea.
However, breathing masks do not treat and stop the progression and hence the complexity of sleep apnea. That’s why it is important for you to adopt natural ways to remove the root cause of your sleeping problems.
Sleep apnea can be treated and managed by making changes in your diet and lifestyle modifications, including losing weight, reducing inflammation, improving your diet and starting a regular exercise routine.
Sleep Apnea | Ayurvedic View
According to Ayurveda, our health depends on the three pillars, called upstambha. Nidra (sleep) is one of these 3 essential pillars.
- Ahara – Diet and dietary habits
- Nidra – Restful Sleep during night time
- Vihara – Lifestyle
Thus, Ayurveda states that if you do not get enough sleep, you can’t be in excellent health.
A Shloka in Ayurveda quotes thus
“Happiness and unhappiness, proper nourishment, strength and debility, fertility and impotence, knowledge and ignorance, life and death – all these are dependent on sleep.”Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, Nidra roga (sleep apnea) is a tridoshic problem, with the Vata dosha imbalance being the major player.
The main trigger of sleep apnea is an increase in your involvement in life’s matters, termed as rajasa guna and lack of mental wellness, termed as mansika dosha.
A disturbed digestive fire and build up toxins can also lead to blockade in the air pathways, thus causing ceased breath during sleep.
1. Ayurvedic Natural Remedies for Sleep Apnea
As we established at the start, sleep apnea can be scary.
The thought of losing your breath in your sleep can lead to anxiety. And if left untreated, there will be prices to pay.
Thankfully, you can do something about it. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Simply take hold of nature to restore your health. With all that said, what are the natural cures for sleep apnea that you can begin to try today?
Ayurvedic Herbs for Sleep Apnea
Certain herbs can help relieve sleep apnea. Traditional herbal medicines employed in Ayurveda include:
- Valerian Root
- Tulsi or Holy Basil
These herbs relax and rejuvenate the nervous system and help to induce sleep in a natural way. They can also relieve anxiety and calm the brain and nerves.
Shirodhara comes from two Sanskrit words: ‘Shir’, which means head, and ‘dhara’, which means stream.
It involves pouring a stream of gentle lukewarm medical oil on the head in a specific pattern. It is very calming and relaxing and rejuvenates the nervous system. Shirodhara is also good for calming the Vata dosha.
In Karna Pura, oil is gently poured into the ears.
This procedure is very calming, restores the nervous system, and helps balance the Vata dosha too. These make it effective in treating sleep apnea.
The nose is believed to be the pathway to consciousness.
In Nasya, medical oil is poured into the nose. This oil goes to clear the sinuses, mucus and whatever congestion there might be in the airways. It is also useful to relieve headaches.
Anu Tailam is a medicated oil for Nasya. It consists of herbs that help to relieve health issues related to blocked sinuses and sleep apnea.
Another effective oil to help the nasal passageways is shadbindu oil.
A vitiated Vata and Kapha dosha will benefit greatly from nasya.
Abhyanga is a general body massage with warm, aromatic medical oils. The massage is however done systematically.
Abhyanga loosens toxins, relaxes the nervous system, and provides rest, nourishment, and rejuvenation.
This massage also improves blood circulation, tones and moisturizes skin, works up the lymph system, and calms the mind and nervous system.
2. Ayurvedic Diet to Lose Weight and Reduce Inflammation
Improve your diet by staying away from sugar, all heavy to digest, processed and fried foods. Take in freshly prepared meals from wholesome natural ingredients that help to reduce inflammation and Kapha Dosha.
- Your largest meal should be taken about mid-day. This is when the digestive fire is highest, and you have a good chance of digesting the food completely.
- Avoid cold foods and cold beverages with your meals.
- Always take your dinner early, ideally before 7 PM. This will help you to digest your food before you sleep. Hence, reducing the chances of digestive problems as acid reflux, bloating and indigestion that sit on top of the breathing problems for sleep.
- Do not talk or engage in entertainment while eating. This disturbs your digestive fire and slows down metabolism. Food should be consumed in relaxed and sitting position.
- Do not drink excess water during or after meals. Warm water just before the meal and few sips along with are alright.
- Use less salt and replace table salt with rock salt.
- Eat slowly and stop right before you feel very full. This is because our system reacts to food intake with a lag. If you stuff yourself too much, then by the time your brain signals you to stop, you have already overeaten!
- Use soaking, sprouting, and fermentation processes to turn anti-nutrients into nutrients.
3. Lifestyle changes to counter Sleep Apnea
Sleep affects your lifestyle, but it goes the other way around too. Your lifestyle affects the quality of your sleep. Therefore, making some changes to your lifestyle can improve sleep apnea.
Here are some changes that you can make:
- Quit alcohol, smoking and use of narcotics. All of these collectively put you on risk for complex sleep apnea symptoms, where both your nervous system response and your breathing function is affected.
- Do not use sleeping pills and over the counter sedatives. These again act on your nervous system to increase your risk for central sleep apnea in the future and create symptoms as snoring, irritability and fatigue during the day. Follow Ayurvedic guidelines to sleep better instead.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity as stated above is strongly linked to breathing problems, specifically snoring and sleep apnea. A mild reduction 5-7% in your weight can significantly improve your sleep quality.
- Practice Yoga asanas and Pranayama breathing techniques to calm yourself.
- Use a humidifier to moisten the air. It can help to drain the sinuses and clear the pathways for those, who often struggle with blocked nose related breathing difficulties.
- Engage in regular moderate level exercise to help you sleep better, promote circulation in the body and also improve the functioning of your nervous system.
4. Essential Oils for Sleep Apnea and Good Sleep
Use aromatherapy with essential oils for a good and restful sleep at night. Essential oils are also helpful to relieve stress and relax your nervous system such that you stop worrying and relax.
Additionally, essential oils also help to unblock sinuses, relieve inflammation and reduce irritation in the nasal airways.
Essential oils are anti-inflammatory in nature. Hence, they reduce muscular spasms that lead to snoring and breathing difficulties in sleep apnea.
They also clear up the respiratory tract by dissolving the mucus, hence supporting better breathing.
Essential oils can be diffused near the bed or mixed with a carrier oil and massaged onto the body.
Some of the essential oils that are not habit forming and can help you with sleep apnea symptoms are:
- Tea tree oil
5. Sleeping Position
Change your sleeping position.
For example, if you have been sleeping on your back, your airway is more likely to close up. A partial blockage of the airway is likely to produce very loud snoring in many people.
Also, a complete blockage of the airway will stop the passage of air to the lungs. In both the cases your sleep gets interrupted due to insufficient supply of air.
Try to sleep on the side. This position allows the breathing passages to remain open and keeps the body in a position that avoids undue strain and stress on muscles.
Also, for people and children who often struggle with blocked nose related breathing difficulties in sleeping; you can elevate your head slightly to allow for better respiration.
6. Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) and Yoga for Sleep Apnea
Regular practice of breathing exercises as pranayama and those specifically focussed on strengthening the muscles of your respiratory tract can help you find relief from sleep apnea symptoms.
Pranayama will also help you to clear up your respiratory tract and prevent the problems of sinus and blocked nose.
Regular practice of pranayama allows you to breathe fully and into your diaphragm. Thus, it helps you to make quality breathing becomes second nature and carries over into sleep.
One study found a significant decrease in neck circumference, daytime sleepiness, and overall improved sleep with regular practice of pranayama exercises.
Here are some pranayama that you can practice on regular basis to tone pup and strengthen your diaphragm and breathing muscles.
- Anuloma Viloma Pranayama
- Ujjayi Pranayama
- Bhastrika Pranayama
- Bhramari Pranayama
- Kapalbhati Pranayama
7. Yoga Asana for Sleep Apnea
Regular practice of yoga helps to relieve stiffness in the muscles of upper body such as the neck, shoulders, and the back.
This often weakens the muscles of the upper body and creates compression of the airway as you sleep.
Yoga asana help you to stretch your muscles and relax your mind. Thus, it helps to treat the root cause of sleep apnea symptoms. Here are some yoga asana that are helpful for the upper body muscles:
- Locust Pose
- Seated Twist Pose
- Camel Pose
- Roaring Lion Pose
- Seated Forward Bend
- Cat Pose
- Cobra Pose
- Corpse Pose
8. Mouth and Throat (Oral) Exercises for Sleep Apnea
Similar to yoga and pranayama, oral exercises help to tone up and strengthen the muscles of upper respiratory tract. This reduces their chances of collapse and hence blockade during your sleep.
Here are some mouth and throat exercises that you can do to find relief from sleep apnea symptoms:
- Place your tongue flat against the roof (palate) of your mouth and brush it in the upper back and sides. Repeat the brushing action five times, do this three times a day.
- Open your mouth as if you are a lion getting ready to roar. With your mouth is open very wide, stick out your tongue and make a roaring sound as if it is coming out of your inner body. Do this for five seconds, then repeat ten times.
- Keep one finger inside the mouth. Keep the finger opposite the cheek and pull the muscles of the cheek in at the same time. Repeat 10 times, take a pause, and then on the other cheek. Do this entire process three times.
- Stick your tongue with the palate once a day for three minutes and apply pressure on the palate with the tongue.
- Place your lips on the balloon. Breathe deeply through your nose and inflate the balloon as much as you can while expelling air from the mouth. Repeat the balloon five times without removing it from the mouth.
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Before you Go!
Getting sufficient sleep and energy while struggling with sleep apnea symptoms can seem like a dream! However, you should know that your respite lies in the simple changes in your diet and lifestyle that you can do.
When you start to address your diet and lifestyle that cause it in the first place, you can really see improvement in your health and sleep.
These are not hard to begin, yet they will make your life so much easier than the temporary solutions of breathing devices do. So, along with the assistance from technology, devices and your family members you should start asap to put your sleep and sleep problems into order.
So, get started today! And do share with us in comments on how this post has helped you. Or if you would like more information. We will get back the soonest.
- Ayurveda Approach to Primary Snoring through Panchakarma-A Case Study
- ANIDRA (Insomnia)
- Obesity Associated Sleep Apnoea in Men
- The effects of aromatherapy essential oil inhalation on stress, sleep quality and immunity in healthy adults: Randomized controlled trial
- Effect of oropharyngeal exercises and Pranayama on snoring, daytime sleepiness and quality of sleep in patients with moderate obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome