Behavioral & Mechanical Therapies for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Many people with obstructive sleep apnea find that noninvasive therapies help relieve snoring and reduce sleep apnea. Our sleep experts identify the best therapy for you based on the anatomy of your nose and throat and the results of an overnight sleep study.
People with obstructive sleep apnea can often manage symptoms by making lifestyle changes.
For some people, losing weight may be all that’s needed to improve sleep and reduce snoring and breathing interruptions. Weight gain and obesity are linked to a loss of muscle tone in the upper airway, which may cause structures in the throat to flutter, vibrate, and collapse.
Our doctors understand that losing weight is not easy. Specialists at NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program can help you lose weight using diet and exercise or, if appropriate, surgery.
Reducing Alcohol and Sedative Use
Drinking alcohol is a well-known contributor to snoring and apnea because it leads to a loss of muscle tone. Doctors recommend avoiding alcohol within four hours of bedtime. Sleeping pills and other sedatives may help you sleep, but they also cause muscles to relax and may worsen snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Some people experience snoring and sleep apnea only when they sleep in a certain position—most often lying flat on the back, which allows gravity to contribute to an airway obstruction. For example, if your tongue relaxes too much while you sleep, it may collapse into the back of the throat when you’re on your back.
The results of the sleep study include details about what positions you sleep in and whether a certain sleeping position coincides with snoring and interruptions in breathing.
If a doctor finds that apnea occurs most often while you sleep flat on your back, he or she may suggest ways to avoid that position. For example, if sleeping on your back causes apnea, wearing a soft belt with a foam block on the back may prevent you from rolling onto your back while you sleep.
Mechanical therapies involve noninvasive devices that help prevent obstructive sleep apnea. Your doctor can recommend which therapy is best for you.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device
A continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device is a small bedside air pump connected to a face mask. The mask may cover the nose and mouth or just the nose and is available in a variety of sizes. Your doctor can help you select the right type of mask to reduce apnea and snoring and allow you to sleep comfortably.
CPAP pushes air through the nose and mouth to inflate the upper airway. The air pressure prevents the tissues from collapsing. This therapy enables sleep without interruptions in breathing and without snoring in people with obstructive sleep apnea. A trained sleep specialist programs the CPAP device to address your particular needs.
CPAP is most effective when used all night every night. This therapy does not address the underlying causes of obstructive sleep apnea, but does provide long-term relief for many people. CPAP is thought to be the safest and most effective noninvasive treatment available.
If nasal congestion is contributing to obstructive sleep apnea, a doctor may also prescribe a corticosteroid medication that you spray into the nose daily. This medication reduces inflammation in soft tissues lining the nasal passages and can help you breathe more easily while you sleep. It can enhance the effectiveness of CPAP and can sometimes reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Your doctor may recommend a mouth guard, technically called a mandibular advancement device, to shift the lower jaw forward and create more space for air to flow through the throat. These devices are available at drugstores, but NYU Langone doctors often recommend a custom fit. A prosthodontist—a dentist who specializes in fitting oral devices—can custom fit a mouth guard for you.