For the majority of people, sleep comes naturally. They fall asleep and wake up in the morning feeling fresh and ready to go. For snorers however, sleep doesn’t seem to give their mind and body that much needed rest and reset. They wake up feeling sluggish and tired. In most cases, they wake up with a bad headache and feel sleepy throughout the day. The most common fix most sleep doctors recommend is the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. But is CPAP the only way? Are there any other effective CPAP alternatives for chronic snorers?
Chronic snoring, also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders in the world. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. What is even more alarming, is about 80% of them are undiagnosed and left untreated.
If left untreated, OSA increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, insulin resistance, even heart arrhythmia, and more. That is aside from the fact that chronic snorers almost always experience morning headaches and feel sluggish and tired throughout the day.
How CPAP Machines Work
For those seeking treatment, most doctors recommend the use of a CPAP device – a machine that delivers pressurized air through a mask. The pressurized air is delivered through the nose, mouth, and throat and keeps the throat muscles and tissues from collapsing. This ensures normal breathing minus the snoring.
Note: CPAP does not really eliminate snoring. You will definitely still snore if you do not wear the mask.
The Problem with CPAP
However, for this to work, the mask must be worn throughout the night. This is the problem with using CPAP machines – wearing that cumbersome mask attached to a noisy breathing apparatus by the bedside is not an ideal sleeping scenario for everyone. This is why many are left to look for CPAP alternatives.
What Are the CPAP Alternatives?
Before you look for CPAP alternatives, you might want to try other ways to make CPAP a little more comfortable for you.
Most people breathe through their mouth and nose when they sleep. Those with sleep apnea breathe through their mouth. This usually happens when there is congestion in the nasal passage, enlarged tonsils, or a deviated septum that blocks the nose. Breathing through the mouth while on the CPAP machine dries the nose and throat, which could be quite uncomfortable. This is one of the reasons why many abandon their use of the machine.
A good solution for this is wearing a chin strap or simply switching to a full face mask. You can also opt for CPAP machines with an in-built humidifier to add moisture to the air you breathe.
Other solutions to make CPAP a little more comfortable include:
- Clearing up your nasal passage using antihistamine, nasal decongestant, or saline water before bedtime.
- Elevating your head with an extra pillow.
Best CPAP Alternatives
Now if the CPAP lifestyle is really not for you, then here are the alternatives you might want to use to try to minimize the snoring.
This is probably the most common CPAP alternative, and rightfully so, as they are effective and far more convenient than the CPAP machine. As a matter of fact, many patients who choose oral devices are more comfortable with this treatment option than the CPAP mask. They are also cheap and convenient to carry around.
A dental or oral appliance is a custom-made piece made by your dentist. Depending on your condition, the appliance could either keep your tongue in place to keep the air passage open as you sleep, or push your tongue and lower jaw a little forward to keep the airways open.
The most common surgery for sleep apnea is called Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which is the removal of tissue from the back of the throat and upper part of the mouth. These are the extra tissues that collapse and block the airways during sleep.
Though this surgical procedure is usually minimally invasive, others can have more complex situations in the structure of the mouth and throat.
Sometimes large tonsils and adenoids are also removed to create more room for air to flow.
This involves the use of radio frequency energy to remove excess tissue around the upper airways.
This is done to correct a deviated septum; some people have improperly aligned walls between their nasal passages which makes the opening of the air passage smaller.
Hypoglossal nerve stimulation
The hypoglossal nerve controls the movement of the tongue. This is a relatively new technique that involves placing a device under the skin of the chest to monitor the breathing and stimulate the nerve the second the breathing stops. The stimulation will move the tongue out of the way from the airway. This is quite an expensive procedure and is usually not covered by insurance.
Mandibular or maxillary advancement
For people with severe OSA, this procedure involves moving the jaw bones forward permanently to keep the airways open.
It is also important to note that surgery is not the best alternative for everyone. While some may benefit from it, it has its set of negative aspects, such as pain and bleeding, jaw wired shut for days if not weeks, and overnight stays at the hospital. Also, some patients may still be required to wear CPAP after the procedure.
Change your sleeping position
Sleeping on your back may feel more comfortable and natural. However, you are likely to experience the symptoms of sleep apnea with this position. This is because the air passage is subject to collapsing, both from internal and external factors (chest pressing down or the weight of the neck). Gravity also causes some sort of shifting of the tissues around your throat which blocks the airflow. This is particularly common among overweight and obese individuals.
Sleeping on your side or on your stomach can help negate these problems. Both positions can reduce the frequency and intensity of snoring.
Since it is almost impossible for you to keep an eye on your sleeping position while asleep, you may want to try positional therapy. This involves wearing a special device around your back and waist that will keep you sleeping on your side.
A study published in January 2012 showed the efficacy of this therapy for people with obstructive sleep apnea.
Weight management programs
For patients with excess weight, doctors often recommend weight loss programs to help treat sleep apnea and snoring caused by excess tissues and fat around the neck and mouth. Overweight and obese individuals often have a thicker neck due to excess tissues and fat, which also blocks the airway. There is no guarantee that this will eliminate the sleep apnea, but it helps in most cases.
Changing your everyday habits
Small changes in your daily habits can help reduce the frequency of sleep apnea. Quitting smoking, not drinking alcohol before bedtime, or reducing your caffeine intake may help.
Doctors may also recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you eliminate certain bad habits, thoughts, and behaviors that may be causing your sleeping disorders.