Living with Sleep Apnea
This section offers advice on how to live well with obstructive sleep apnea.
Ways you can be your healthiest and improve your sleep apnea
You have no control over the shape of your face, or the size of your jaw or airway, but there are things that you can control that might help your sleep apnea.
You can control:
- Your diet and weight
- How much you exercise
- What medications you take
- How you use alcohol and caffeine
- Whether you smoke
Changing your diet and weight to improve sleep apnea symptoms
Many people with sleep apnea are overweight. If you lose weight, your sleep apnea symptoms may improve.
Some people find it easier to lose weight once they get their sleep apnea treated. People who have untreated sleep apnea symptoms don’t get restful sleep, and this can interfere with the signals in their brains. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain can have trouble deciding if you are hungry or full. Once you start sleeping properly, brain’s hunger signal stops being confused. You know when you’re full, so you know when to stop eating. You’re less likely to overeat. This can help you lose weight.
Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietician to help you lose weight. Or join a proven weight loss support program. Most people need long-term support to keep the weight off.
If you gain or lose more than 30 pounds, your CPAP pressure may need to be changed. If you’ve gained or lost 30 pounds or more, go back to your sleep specialist for another evaluation.
Exercise to improve sleep apnea symptoms
Regular exercise has many benefits for people with sleep apnea, including:
- better endurance
- better muscle tone
- more energy
- less tension, depression and anxiety
- better chance of controlling weight
- lower blood pressure
- better circulation
- lower risk of heart attack or stroke
Always speak to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Here are some good ways to make exercise part of your routine:
- Walk every day. Even short walks are helpful.
- Park a distance from the store and walk across the parking lot.
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator
- Join an exercise program
- Go biking with friends
- Do an activity that interests you; swimming at the local pool, dancing, golfing, or another activity. Look at your local recreation guide to find what’s available in your area.
Medications and sleep apnea
Medications such as tranquilizers or muscle relaxants can make sleep apnea worse. Please discuss all your medications with your sleep doctor, including herbal and over-the-counter remedies.
Getting dental and medical care if you have sleep apnea
If you’re getting sedated (anesthesia, “going under”) for a dental procedure, a test or surgery, be sure to tell all the people looking after you that you have sleep apnea. And remember to use your CPAP machine or dental device everywhere you sleep, including times when you may stay overnight at a hospital.
You should also wear a medical alert bracelet that says you have sleep apnea.
Alcohol, caffeine, and sleep apnea
Alcohol and caffeine can cause problems with sleep if you take them within four hours of your bedtime. Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime. Caffeine is found in many items including coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate. To avoid caffeine, drink water or decaf versions of coffee, tea, or cola. If you do want to drink something with alcohol or caffeine, drink it earlier in the day, with a meal.
Smoking and sleep apnea
Smokers are at greater risk of developing sleep apnea. Smoking can make your nose stuffy and irritated, which can interfere with your CPAP therapy. Consider quitting smoking. Once you are ready to quit, get help. Learn more about how to quit smoking and where to get help.
If your partner has sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious condition. Your support will help your partner get the help he or she needs. Once your partner gets proper treatment, you may sleep better too!
Doctors, equipment suppliers and health educators work as a team to help people use their CPAP equipment successfully. You, the partner, play a very important role as well. Here are some ways you can help:
- Learn all you can about sleep apnea. To start, read through the information on this website.
- Learn about your partner’s prescribed treatment for sleep apnea (for example, CPAP). Help your partner get used to his or her treatment.
- Encourage your partner to continue with the treatment.
- Reassure your partner that using CPAP does not affect how you feel about him or her.
- Support your partner’s efforts to lose weight and exercise regularly and to quit smoking.