Sleep apnea is a common condition in which breathing becomes labored or even absent during sleep. The prevalence of sleep apnea in the United States has been increasing steadily since the mid-1990s, possibly due to increasing rates of obesity in the country.1
There are two types of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea, with the latter being the most common. In both, breathing stops and restarts repeatedly as you sleep. This causes your body to not get the oxygen it needs, leaving you feeling unrested during the day.2
Fortunately, sleep apnea is preventable in many cases. But with sleep apnea numbers continuing to climb, it’s important to know the basics about this condition.
This article will look at the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, how the condition is diagnosed, treatment options, and whether supplements can help.
Sleep apnea symptoms & how it’s diagnosed
There are several signs and symptoms to watch out for when it comes to sleep apnea. If you sleep alone, it may be challenging to identify most sleep apnea symptoms, as partners tend to be the first ones to notice something is wrong.
Sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Persistent and loud snoring
- Gasping for air while sleeping
- Breathing that stops and restarts during sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
- Dry mouth
- Low libido
- Frequent nighttime waking to urinate3
Sleep apnea can also affect children. Children with sleep apnea may wet the bed, have severe asthma, and struggle to pay attention at school.3
It may take some time and several steps to diagnose sleep apnea.
Diagnosis typically consists of personal history, family history, physical exam, and a sleep study.4 Sleep studies entail being hooked up to various devices that measure your sleep and may be performed at home or a health clinic.
Your healthcare provider may also want to rule out any other health conditions as part of the diagnosis process.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, the next step will be to learn about your treatment options.
Common treatments for sleep apnea
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, don’t panic, it can be treated. And you’ll want to treat it because untreated, progressive sleep apnea can lead to heart disease.5
There are a few common treatments for sleep apnea, but probably the most common is CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure. CPAP is thought to improve sleep quality, thus reducing sleep apnea symptoms and associated risk factors.
Essentially, CPAP is a machine that helps keep your airways open, so your body gets enough oxygen while you sleep. People using CPAP wear a mask connected to the machine via tubing overnight.6
Another treatment option for sleep apnea is myofunctional therapy. This therapy entails facial exercises targeted at your lips, tongue, soft palate, and other areas of your mouth and airway affected by sleep apnea. Myofunctional therapy is thought to reduce snoring, improve oxygen saturation, and increase sleep duration.7
You may also be able to treat sleep apnea with lifestyle changes. For sleep apnea, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends the following:
- Getting regular physical activity
- Making improvements to your diet
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy weight8
Because sleep apnea is such a common health condition, additional treatments exist. If CPAP, myofunctional therapy, and lifestyle changes don’t work for you, you have other options.
Additional sleep apnea treatments include:
- Oral devices that are worn while you sleep to open your airway.
- Breathing devices (besides CPAP) like APAP (auto-adjusting positive airway pressure) and BPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure).
- Surgery may be necessary to remove tonsils or adenoids, place a breathing implant, or adjust the placement of your jaw.8
Supplements for sleep apnea may be another possibility, which we’ll explore next.
Can supplements help with sleep apnea?
It may be possible to use certain supplements for sleep apnea to help treat your condition.
While supplements may be a helpful, complementary treatment for some, supplement use should never replace medical attention. Because supplements are unregulated, it’s important to do your research when choosing new ones. Unfortunately, not all the health claims listed on supplement labels are true.
To keep some of the guesswork out of your life, the following list of science-backed supplements for sleep apnea has been compiled.
1 – Yohimbine
Researchers from MIT found that yohimbine, a substance that comes from the bark of an African tree, may be able to treat and even reverse obstructive sleep apnea.9
According to the researchers, yohimbine stimulates neurons that control the tongue. Although the mechanism of action is not yet completely understood, the fact of the matter is that yohimbine restored normal sleep for rats with obstructive sleep apnea.
Human trials on yohimbine for sleep apnea are certainly warranted, but these preliminary results are promising.
2 – Vitamin D
Research has been mixed on the use of vitamin D for sleep apnea. And while a direct link has yet to be discovered, people with obstructive sleep apnea tend to be deficient in vitamin D.10 Regardless, we do know that there is some sort of relationship between vitamin D and sleep apnea which may suggest that supplementation would be helpful.
One study found that people with sleep apnea who used CPAP had improved serum vitamin D levels at the end of 24 weeks.10
While more research is needed, what these and similar study results show is that sleep apnea treatment improves vitamin D levels, possibly suggesting that vitamin D supplementation could, in turn, improve sleep apnea.
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3 – Antioxidants
People with sleep apnea are at a greater risk for oxidative stress and subsequent heart disease. Because of this, antioxidants, which combat oxidative stress, are being researched as a possible complementary treatment for patients with sleep apnea.11
Antioxidant supplements are thought to support the body’s natural antioxidant defense against oxidative stress, a common result of sleep apnea.12
In one study, patients with obstructive sleep apnea took both vitamin C and vitamin E supplements for 45 days. At the end of the study, the patients reported improved quality of life and better overall sleep from taking the two antioxidant supplements.13
4 – Prebiotics and Probiotics
To keep the risk of heart disease at bay, prebiotic and probiotic supplements may be beneficial for anyone with sleep apnea.
As one of your largest organs, the health of your gut can essentially determine your overall health. Prebiotics and probiotics can restore and maintain proper gut health by increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut.
In animal models, the level of good bacteria in the gut has been found to be lower in those with hypertension compared to healthy controls. Research has suggested that supplementing with prebiotics and probiotics may reduce the incidence of hypertension and heart disease in those with sleep apnea.14
5 – Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, may do more than just give you an energy boost. The important vitamin has been suggested as a complementary treatment for those living with sleep apnea.
The link between vitamin B12 and sleep isn’t exactly clear, but there does seem to be some connection.
When it comes to sleep apnea, vitamin B12 is another one that can help reduce your risk of heart-related diseases often associated with a sleep apnea diagnosis. When your vitamin B12 levels are decreased, your homocysteine and methylmalonic acid levels are increased. And this can be problematic since high levels of homocysteine and methylmalonic acid can lead to damaged arteries and the formation of blood clots.15
In short, if you have sleep apnea then taking a vitamin B12 supplement may help you lower your heart disease risk.
Don’t wait to get treatment for sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a common condition among Americans. It’s characterized by poor sleep, problems getting enough oxygen overnight, daytime sleepiness, and excessive nighttime awakening.
You can make lifestyle changes to treat or prevent sleep apnea. The health condition can also be treated with breathing machines, facial exercises, surgery, or various supplements for sleep apnea.
If you have sleep apnea, talk with your healthcare provider about the best treatments and supplements for you.
About Brittany Lubeck
Brittany Lubeck is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition, and began her career as a clinical dietitian. Brittany has always enjoyed research and loves that she can help people learn more about nutrition through her writing.
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