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Ease Sleep Apnoea with Clinical and Traditional Treatments

Published | 5 min read

If you find your sleep interrupted because you start and stop breathing suddenty, you may have sleep apnoea. Learn how to address the issue so you can wake up feeling refreshed.

Disgruntled woman closing her ears while looking at a man who’s sleeping with a wide-opened mouth as they both lie in bed.

Have you ever stopped and started breathing when you’re asleep? It can be a sign of sleep apnoea, which is potentially dangerous. 

There are two types of sleep apnoea. Obstructive sleep apnoea happens when the air passage through your nose or mouth is blocked when you sleep. Central sleep apnoea occurs when your brain isn’t sending the right signals to the muscles that control breathing.

A shortage of oxygen to the brain activates a reflex that helps you catch a breath, but also interrupts your sleep cycle. In the long run, it can strain your heart and lead to potentially deadly consequences.

In conjunction with 2023’s World Sleep Day theme, “Sleep is Essential for Health”, we explore how sleep apnoea affects your health, and holistic ways to improve sleep quality.

What are the Root Causes of Sleep Apnoea?

Woman using a mobile phone while sitting on a rocky, high-altitude mountain cliff.
Living in a high-altitude location makes you vulnerable to central sleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea can affect anyone, but some people are at higher risk than others. Obstructive sleep apnoea happens when the upper airway gets blocked frequently as you sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. The condition is common among men younger than 50, women older than 50, and men and women who are overweight or obese.

Central sleep apnoea affects adults over 60, those with heart conditions or who live in high altitudes, those taking opioid-based pain medications, and those who use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that sleep apnoea happens when internal factors weaken the vital organ systems. These factors – phlegm, Dampness, fluid retention, blood clots, and Qi (vital life force) Stagnation – develop if you: 

  • Struggle to keep your emotions under control 
  • Overuse alcohol and smoke cigarettes 
  • Practice poor eating habits 
  • Suffer work-related stress 
  • Suffer trauma to the neck or airways 
  • Have an inactive lifestyle 
  • Have poor sleep quality 
  • Have been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition 
  • Have been using specific medications for a long time 

Obstructive sleep apnoea 

Close-up of an obese man with a half-unbuttoned shirt.
Obesity can lead to airway blockage, which prevents proper breathing.

The factors that contribute the most to obstructive sleep apnoea are: 

  • Being overweight or obese: Excess weight narrows the soft tissue of the mouth and throat during sleep, blocking the airway 
  • Facial structural problems: Having an underbite, an unusually small lower jaw, a large tongue, large tonsils or adenoids, or a neck circumference that’s more than sixteen inches 
  • Genetic conditions: People with Down syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome may experience airway obstruction due to an abnormal head or facial structure 

Central sleep apnoea 

This type of sleep apnoea can happen if you: 

  • Take narcotic painkillers 
  • Have a stroke, brain infection, or cervical spine disorders 
  • Have Cheyne-Stokes respiration, which impairs the breathing of people with congestive heart failure during sleep 

What are the Possible Treatments for Sleep Apnoea? 

The condition is incurable but there are some ways to help reduce its frequency or severity. Try these recommendations: 

  • Non-medical methods: Losing weight, changing your sleeping position, using sleep support items, using nasal sprays or adhesive strips, or decreasing or stopping opioid medication 
  • Using positive airway pressure and adaptive ventilation devices: Increases air pressure inside the airway and lungs while you sleep 
  • Customised mouthpieces: Helps hold the jaw and tongue in a position that takes the pressure off the windpipe 
  • Nerve stimulators: Encourages breathing and prevents the tongue from relaxing back into the windpipe 
  • Surgery: On your nose, mouth, or throat to prevent blockages  

Herbal remedies 

Never self-medicate. Instead, allow a licensed TCM practitioner to select formulas that treat sleep apnoea for you.

Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang (苓甘五味姜辛汤) gets rid of fluid retention and supports the Spleen and Lung systems. Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang (养阴清肺汤) and Hui Yan Zhu Yu Tang (厌逐瘀汤) are able to eliminate pathogens, but Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang can also replenish Kidney and Lung yin (passive energy). Hui Yan Zhu Yu Tang, meanwhile, strengthens the Liver and Lungs.

Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew

Acupressure massages 

At home, you can massage specific points on the body to correct body constitution weaknesses that cause sleep apnoea. These include ying xiang (LI20, 迎香), tian tu (CVRN22, 天突), and lian quan (CVRN23, 廉泉). 

Distal acupoints located away from the centre of the body can be used to keep pathogens away and improve the different organ systems. Some of these are zhong wan (CVRN12, 中脘), dan zhong (CVRN17, 膻中), and tai chong (LR3, 太沖). 

Sleep apnoea may seem harmless, but it can damage your health if left untreated. Early intervention with the right combination of treatments can help you manage the condition.

Before you explore the idea of using traditional remedies, seek the help of a qualified TCM practitioner to avoid possible complications.

Found these tips useful? Share this with someone who has sleep apnoea.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Sleep Apnea. [online] [Accessed 31 January 2023] 
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Dangers of Uncontrolled Sleep Apnea. [online] [Accessed 31 January 2023] 
  3. World Sleep Society. World Sleep Day® is March 17, 2023. [online] [Accessed 31 January 2023] 
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Obstructive Sleep Apnea. [online] [Accessed 31 January 2023] 
  5. MedlinePlus. Central sleep apnea. [online] [Accessed 31 January 2023] 

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