A few years ago, I did a sleep study in the hospital to determine if I have sleep apnea. I do. I woke up momentarily 80 times during the night.
Sleep deprivation is just one of the bad results of having it. Frequent waking, fitful sleep and waking up feeling like I have not slept are all results. Maybe a compromised immune system, poor mental and emotional health, and irritability too. And then, because you stop breathing, oxygen deprivation – which can lead to you having heart disease, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, and learning/memory problems.
With all that, no surprise that 1 in 5 people who suffer from depression also suffer from sleep apnea, and people with sleep apnea are five times more likely to become depressed. Researchers are not sure if the apnea causes depression or vice-versa. Either way, it’s depressing.
Cures? I didn’t want to go the CPAP route (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). This entails wearing a mask-like device while you sleep to provide pressurized air to prevent the airway from collapsing. Too SCUBA diver for me.
I tried the dental devices – a Mandibular Repositioning Device and the Tongue Retaining Device – but I felt like I was choking on them at night.
Minor sleep apnea is sometimes responsive to “behavioral treatments” which I have tried with limited success. Here are a bunch of suggestions:
Stop using alcohol, tobacco, sedatives, or anything that relaxes the muscles of the throat and encourages snoring.
Sleep on your side, not your back. (Special pillows help.)
Elevate the head of your bed by 4 -6 inches. (which I had already done for acid reflux!)
Maintain regular sleep hours. (a tough one for me).
Use a nasal dilator, breathe right strips, or saline nasal spray to help open nasal passages. (all totally ineffective for me)
But here are two treatments I had not heard of before that come from a 2005 study in the British Medical Journal.
Learning and playing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and sleep apnea, as well as daytime sleepiness. This appears to work by strengthening muscles in the upper airway, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep.
And there is also a program that uses specialized “singing” exercises to tone the throat, particularly the soft palate, tongue and nasopharynx. Dr. Elizabeth Scott, a medical doctor living in Scotland, had experimented with singing exercises and found considerable success, but had been unable to carry out a clinical trial. Alise Ojay, a choir director, began researching the possibility of using singing exercises to help a friend with snoring and came across Dr. Scott’s work. The results were promising and after two years of investigations, she designed the “Singing for Snorers” program.
If in the future you hear strange sounds coming from my house during the daytime, it might be my singing and didgeridoo practice. If you hear strange noises at night, I’m probably still snoring.