Sleep apnea is more than just an occasional bout of snoring — it’s a disorder that causes you to start and stop breathing as you snooze. If you think you have it, you must see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. And if you’re diagnosed, your doctor will likely prescribe you a CPAP machine, which, oftentimes, is only partially covered by insurance.
But what if a CPAP isn’t the best solution for you? Not everyone can stand the sound of a continuous, whirring breathing machine, let alone the sensation of air being pushed down your wind pipe. If you’re curious about alternative solutions, you’re in luck: This week’s edition of “Ask the Experts” focuses on the issue, with advice directly from Heather Moday, MD.
Sleep Apnea Without a CPAP
Q: I have sleep apnea, and I snore all night. I was thinking about getting a CPAP machine, but they’re so expensive, and my mom, who’s 85, told me hers doesn’t help much. Is there anything else I can try?
A: There is! It’s important to treat sleep apnea, as it can lead to health issues like high blood pressure and daytime drowsiness. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are about 80 percent effective, and the benefits increase with long-term use. As for why it hasn’t helped your mom: A new University of Missouri study found that CPAP was often ineffective in people over 80, who are more likely to have other conditions that hinder sleep, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Insurance typically covers part of the cost of the machine — you just need a prescription from your doctor. But if you’re wary of investing in a machine, I can suggest other ways to ease apnea.
First, try propping pillows next to you to keep you on your side while you sleep, as back-sleeping can trigger snoring and apnea episodes. I also advise avoiding alcohol before bed since it can relax muscles in the throat, making you more prone to airway collapse.
Finally, doing three simple tongue exercises may help reduce snoring as well. To try them: Put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth and slide your tongue backward. Then, using a sucking motion, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Relax your tongue, then press the tip of your tongue against your bottom front teeth and let your tongue rest at the bottom of your mouth. Lastly, with your tongue relaxed, say the letter “a” 20 times. Do each exercise 20 times, repeating three times daily.
Heather Moday, MD, is the director of the Moday Center in Philadelphia. She is board-certified in allergy and immunology, as well as integrative and holistic medicine. You can follow her on Instagram (@theimmunitymd), where she shares information on health topics. And to ask her a question here, send an email to email@example.com.
Note: For custom advice taking your health into account, speak with your doctor.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.