How To Sleep If You Have Sleep Apnea?


How to Sleep If You Have Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during the night. This can severely impact sleep quality and overall health. Managing sleep apnea involves a combination of medical treatments and lifestyle modifications to ensure you get a good night’s rest.

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is broadly classified into three types: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), and Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. OSA is the most common type and occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively, leading to blockage of the airway. CSA is less common and occurs when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles controlling breathing. Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of both OSA and CSA.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

People with sleep apnea may experience a range of symptoms. These can include:

– Loud snoring
– Episodes of no breathing during sleep witnessed by another person
– Gasping for air during sleep
– Waking up with a dry mouth
– Morning headaches
– Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
– Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
– Difficulty paying attention while awake
– Irritability

The Importance of Diagnosis

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it is critical to get a medical diagnosis. A sleep study, known as a polysomnogram, is often conducted. This study monitors various body functions during sleep, including brain activity, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rhythm, and breathing.

Medical Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Controlling sleep apnea often requires medical intervention. Here are some common treatments:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

The most common treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine. This device delivers air pressure through a mask that keeps your airway passages open during sleep. While many people find CPAP machines cumbersome at first, they generally become accustomed to them over time, and the benefits far outweigh initial discomforts.

Oral Appliances

For those who find CPAP machines too intrusive, an oral appliance might be prescribed. These devices help keep the throat open by repositioning the jaw or tongue. While they are often less effective than CPAP machines, oral appliances are more user-friendly and can be a good alternative for some individuals.


If other treatments do not work, surgical options are available. The goal of surgery is generally to remove excess tissue from the throat or to adjust the jaw structure. Procedures can vary from minimally invasive techniques to more extensive treatments, depending on the severity of the apnea.

Non-Medical Strategies to Improve Sleep

Lifestyle changes can significantly impact the quality of sleep for those with sleep apnea. Here are several methods to consider:

Sleep Position

Changing your sleeping position can be one of the simplest and most effective ways to manage sleep apnea symptoms. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and soft tissues to collapse to the back of your throat, leading to airway obstruction. Instead, try sleeping on your side. Some people even sew a tennis ball into the back of their pajamas to train themselves not to roll onto their back during sleep.

Weight Management

Excess weight, especially around the neck, can lead to or exacerbate sleep apnea. Fat deposits around the neck can obstruct breathing. Losing even a small amount of weight can significantly improve symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Combine a balanced diet with regular exercise to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Avoid Alcohol and Sedatives

Alcohol and sedatives relax the muscles in your throat, which can worsen sleep apnea. It’s best to avoid consuming these substances, especially in the evening.

Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

Irregular sleep patterns can exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This can help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality.

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Elevate the Head of Your Bed

Elevating the head of your bed or using a wedge pillow can help reduce the incidences of apnea episodes by keeping your airways open. This slight elevation can prevent the tongue and soft tissues from collapsing at the back of your throat.


Humidifiers can add moisture to the air, which can help reduce congestion and make breathing easier. Using distilled water in the humidifier and keeping it clean can prevent the spread of bacteria and mold.

Alternative Therapies

Sometimes, incorporating alternative therapies can also aid in managing sleep apnea symptoms.

Throat Exercises

Certain exercises can strengthen the muscles around your airway, reducing the likelihood of them collapsing during sleep. These exercises generally involve repetitive movements of the tongue and other soft tissues of the throat.

– Slide your tongue to the roof of your mouth
– Suck the roof of your mouth
– Say the vowels strongly and repeatedly

Perform these exercises consistently for the best results.

Breathing Techniques

Specific breathing techniques, like those employed in yoga, can help improve overall respiratory function and may reduce sleep apnea symptoms. Practices such as pranayama can make breathing more effective and expand lung capacity.


Staying hydrated is essential because dehydration can cause the nose and throat to produce a thick mucus that can worsen sleep apnea. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day, but reduce fluid intake several hours before bedtime to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom.

Creating the Right Sleep Environment

A conducive sleep environment can make a big difference in sleep quality. Here are some actionable tips:

Comfortable Mattress and Pillows

A supportive mattress and pillows can facilitate proper spinal alignment, which may prevent airway obstruction. Consider pillows designed specifically for sleep apnea sufferers, which often have contouring to support your head and neck optimally.

Cool and Dark Room

Keep your bedroom cool and dark to promote uninterrupted sleep. The optimal room temperature for sleep is generally between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-19 degrees Celsius).

Minimal Noise

Limit background noise by using earplugs, a white noise machine, or a fan. These can create a soothing auditory environment that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Limit Screen Time Before Bed

The blue light from screens can interfere with melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. Aim to turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime.

Monitoring Your Progress

Regularly monitoring your symptoms and sleep quality can help you gauge the effectiveness of your treatment plan and make necessary adjustments.

Keeping a Sleep Diary

A sleep diary can help track your sleep patterns and identify triggers that worsen your sleep apnea. Note the time you go to bed, the time you wake up, and any wakefulness during the night. Record any symptoms you experience, such as snoring or daytime sleepiness.

Follow-Up Appointments

Regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider are essential to monitor your sleep apnea and adjust treatment plans as needed. New technologies and treatments are continually evolving, so staying informed through your healthcare provider is beneficial.

Finishing Thoughts

Managing sleep apnea often involves a multifaceted approach combining medical interventions, lifestyle changes, and the creation of a suitable sleep environment. While it may seem overwhelming at first, each step taken can lead to better sleep and improved overall health. Consult with healthcare professionals to develop an individualized plan that works best for you. By following these guidelines, you can significantly improve your sleep quality and overall well-being despite having sleep apnea.


  • Ashton Roberts

    I love learning and sharing everything about sleep. I am one of the energetic editors here at GoodSleepHub, where I talk about how to get a better night's sleep. When I'm not writing, I'm probably walking my dog Luna or trying out new sleeping gadgets. My goal is to help you sleep easier and better. Join me, and let's find simple ways to enjoy great sleep every night!

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