Sleep Apnea – A Healthy well-balanced Diet could Help

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where breathing is stopped during sleep. Sleep apnea is typically defined when you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds and can occur more than 30 times per hour. Sufferers typically start breathing normally following a loud snort or choking sound but may move from deep to light sleep resulting in excessive sleepiness during the day.


Causes of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea – The most common form of sleep apnea which occurs when the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and block the airway, resulting in loud snoring or snorting. Risk factors of obstructive sleep apnoea include being male, over 65, overweight and smoking.
  2. Central sleep apnea–This is the least common form of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to activate the muscles which control breathing. This form of sleep apnea is typically associated with serious illness such as cardiovascular or neurological disease.
  3. Complex sleep apnea – This is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Medical Treatment of Sleep Apnea

There are no cures for sleep apnea. However, the following treatments can be prescribed:

  1. Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) – CPAP requires you to wear a facial mask during sleep that is connected to a small CPAP machine. The machine generates an air pressure which keeps patients airways during sleep. The device is extremely effective but patients often find it extremely uncomfortable and experience dry mouths and noses.
  2. Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) – Similar to a mouth guard, these devices can bring your lower jaw and tongue forward which will open your airway wider and increase airflow.
  3. Nasal Dilators – These are plastic strips which are placed inside your nostrils to increase the size of the nostril and increase airflow.
  4. Surgery – Surgery can be performed to increase the size of your airway by removing tissues or correcting abnormalities. Most commonly, tightening of loose tissue in the throat and palate (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)) and removing tonsils and adenoids is performed.

Alternative Therapies for Sleep Apnea

There are several natural approaches that may help with sleep apnea

  1. Lifestyle changes– Losing even small amounts of weight and cessation of smoking can help reduce sleep apnea by decreasing the amount of fatty tissue blocking the airway. Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant so refraining from alcohol up to 4 hours before sleep can help. Strengthening of the neck and throat muscles can help prevent narrowing of the airways.
  2. Sleep on your side– Sleeping on your side will decrease the risk of sleep apnea by reducing the chance of soft tissue blocking your airway. This can be achieved by putting an item such as a tennis ball in a sock and pinning it to the back of your bed clothes as the discomfort of laying on your back will make you turn onto your side

Dietary Solutions for Sleep Apnea

A healthy well-balanced diet can be used to help maintain a healthy weight which can help sleep apnea. A Mediterranean diet, in combination with exercise, has been shown to successfully decrease sleep apnea compared to a typical diet. Increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet will help with this but exclude bananas which can increase mucus production and contribute to airway blocking. Fruits and vegetables such as raspberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes are high in fiber can help you maintain weight.

Vitamins and minerals for Managing Sleep Apnea

The antioxidant supplements N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and vitamin D3 have been shown to decrease snore time and duration in patients with sleep apnea. These compounds are found at very low levels in food and are best taken as supplements. We naturally obtain vitamin D3 and increasing sun exposure in a healthy cautious manner can boost vitamin D3 levels.

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