January 16, 2023 4 min read
If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you are already familiar with the importance of using a CPAP device or an oral appliance to manage your symptoms. Your doctor has also likely recommended making lifestyle changes to help you reverse or reduce the severity of your OSA.
These recommendations come from countless clinical practice guidelines developed by organizations like the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the American Thoracic Society, and the International Geriatric Sleep Medicine Force .
However, what you will rarely hear is what you shouldavoid if you have sleep apnea. That’s unfortunate because knowing what makes OSA worse can further help you successfully manage your condition. With that said, here are habits you want to kick if you are serious about managing your OSA.
What all these habits have in common is that they lead to excessive relaxation of upper airway muscles. This relaxing effect makes it more likely for the tissues in the upper airway to collapse, leading to snoring and airway obstruction. If you’ve ever witnessed the snore-enhancing effects of alcohol, you know what we’re talking about.
Besides that, alcohol and smoking in particular are known to irritate throat and mouth tissues, leading to inflammation. An inflamed upper airway makes it even harder for air to flow freely. Instead, these swollen tissues cause turbulence with inhalation, leading to snoring and sleep apnea down the line.
Back sleeping tends to make OSA and snoring worse. Case in point: large studies involving hundreds of patients found that over half of OSA patients show a 50% difference in their apnea index when sleeping on their backs [2,3].
While avoiding sleeping on your back is easier said than done, it is possible with a bit of practice. To change your sleeping position, you may first want to update your sleep setup. An ideal pillow for side sleeping is firm with a high loft to keep your neck aligned with the rest of your body. You may also want to place an additional pillow behind your back to keep you from rolling over during the night.
If you have poorly managed sleep apnea, your sleep is likely already compromised. Not making sleep a priority with poor sleep hygiene can make your problem so much worse. Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to a greater risk of motor vehicle accidents . It is also strongly linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes .
Poor sleep habits include having an irregular sleep schedule, consuming caffeine and other stimulants before bed, and not getting the recommended 6 to 8 hours of sleep each day. To ensure your body is getting the rest it needs to stay healthy, prioritize treating your sleep apnea as well as getting enough quality sleep.
While not everyone diagnosed with OSA has excess weight, studies show that 70% of OSA patients are obese . Obesity increases your risk of sleep apnea because it leads to the narrowing of the upper airways. In turn, sleep apnea can worsen obesity because a lack of proper sleep leads to metabolic problems.
To reduce your risk of sleep apnea, a well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein helps [6,7]. There is also some evidence that eating late can also worsen sleep apnea symptoms , possibly by disrupting your sleep architecture.
CPAP is the most effective therapy for OSA. Those who consistently wear their CPAP see a 100% improvement, according to experts . But compliance is known to be poor with CPAP therapy, with many OSA patients occasionally using the device or giving up on it altogether. This only leads to worsening OSA and chronic health problems.
If you find your CPAP device to be claustrophobic, loud, and generally uncomfortable, you have alternatives. For those having trouble complying with this therapy, oral appliances like the Good Morning Snore Solution tongue-stabilizers offer an alternative. These work best for mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea and snoring. Speak to your doctor about using this alternative to manage your OSA symptoms.
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