Combining techniques can reduce sleep apnea, lead to restful sleep

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Monday, November 13, 2023
Combining techniques can reduce sleep apnea, lead to restful sleep
For people with mild to moderate sleep apnea, a combination of therapies can add up to significant help.

PARKESBURG, Pa. (WPVI) -- Sleep apnea is very common, but so many people struggle to find a solution.

A Temple Health sleep specialist says the best option may actually include several strategies.

"I'm having some difficulty breathing, like when I go upstairs now.," says Lisa Oberholzer of Parkesburg, PA.

Oberholzer wasn't sure if she was out of shape.

"I work at a desk for the better part of the day, and I don't have a lot of free time to exercise," says Oberholzer, or whether a family history of heart disease caught up with her.

She already has Atrial Fibrillation and high blood pressure.

Tests showed she also has mild sleep apnea.

Dr. Robert Satriale of Temple Health pulmonologist and sleep specialist recommended treating the sleep apnea, because of its links to heart conditions.

"The three components of good health are diet, exercise, and good sleep," Dr. Satriale notes.

He starts patients on CPAP machines, which open closed airways.

They are very effective, however, some people, like Oberholzer, have difficulty tolerating them.

"I'm a former O-R nurse, and I sleep lightly," adding, "If you move, like the nasal canula can move, and then it's noisy and it wakes me up."

Dr. Satriale says it takes time to change sleep behaviors.

"At least 3 or 4 weeks of really trying every night, wearing it over 4 hours a night," he advises.

A different mask may help, or maybe a device called V-COM.

"This actually decreases the pressure during inspiration so that patients don't feel like they're being overwhelmed," he notes.

But if people still can't make CPAP work, despite the adjustments, Dr. Satriale says combining several other techniques may add up to a big overall benefit.

For example, elevating the head of your bed can cut breathing gaps 10 to 30 percent. Oral appliances reduce them 50 to 60%.

There's also tongue muscle strengthening to keep airways open better.

One over-the-counter device called Excite OSA is used for 15 minutes during the day to strengthen tongue muscles with mild electrical impulses.

Long-term studies show improvement in patients with mild obstructive sleep apnea.

Dr. Satriale also suggests checking out free online mouth and throat exercises, such as those from the Sleep Foundation.

Oberholzer is sleeping on her side, while continuing to adjust to CPAP.

"It does help me because I've noticed that I'm not quite as tired in the morning when I wake up," she notes.

She has also cut back a lot on coffee and keeps the cats out of her bedroom.

Dr. Satriale says other solutions are on the horizon, including a medication made of two existing drugs.