People with sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods of time while they
are asleep. You generally don't wake up fully when this happens, but in the
morning you don't feel rested, and you feel sleepy during the day. Sleep apnea
can be caused by a blocked upper airway (called obstructive apnea), by your
brain not signaling your lungs to breathe (central apnea), or by a combination
of these two problems.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of sleep apnea include the following.
Loud, irregular snoring, then quiet periods of at least 10 seconds
when breathing stops; these episodes can happen up to 100 times or more each
Daytime sleepiness, always feeling tired
Morning headaches, sore throat, dry mouth, cough
Feeling depressed, moody, irritable
Unable to concentrate or remember
Possible impotence or high blood
What Causes It?
Apnea is caused by many physical conditions (such as obesity, or large
tonsils and adenoids). The typical person with sleep apnea is an overweight,
middle-aged man who has allergies, but apnea can occur at any age and in women
as well as men. Sometimes drugs such as alcohol, sleeping pills, or heart
medications can trigger apnea. It can also be inherited.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
People who have sleep apnea often seek medical help because they feel tired
all the time or because their partner complains of loud snoring. Your health
care provider will check your weight and blood pressure and ask about allergies.
He or she may send you home with a device to check your oxygen levels while you
sleep. Your provider may also refer you to a sleep clinic for overnight
A few drugs hold promise, but most have some undesirable side
Several mask and ventilator devices are available, as well as dental
appliances worn in your mouth. These may be uncomfortable at first.
Sometimes surgery is needed, but your provider will most likely
recommend that you try devices or drugs first.
Making the following lifestyle changes can help obstructive
Minimize your use of alcohol, antihistamines, or
Get treatment for allergies and colds or sinus problems.
Gargle with salt water (without swallowing) to shrink your
Develop regular sleep habits, and especially make sure you get enough
sleep at night.
Sleep on your side or sitting up rather than on your back. You may
want to sew a couple of tennis balls to the back of your sleepwear or put
pillows behind you so you stay on your side.
Use an air humidifier at night.
Don't smoke or expose yourself to other irritants (such as dust or
Raise the head of your bed by placing bricks under the
Some of the drugs used to treat central apnea include:
Clomipramine—side effects may include
Medications used to treat obstructive apnea include:
Medroxyprogesterone—side effects may include
nausea, depression, excess hair growth, breast tenderness, and fluid
Protriptyline—this medication is used rarely;
side effects may include dry mouth, constipation, frequent urination, impotence,
and confusion (in the elderly)
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies may be useful in treating sleep apnea caused by
allergies. Homeopathy and nutrition are most likely to have a positive effect.
While many supplements are touted as good for weight loss, none have proved to
be as effective as eating less and exercising more.
Diet: Try eliminating mucus-producing foods (dairy and bananas) for
two weeks, reintroducing them and noticing any difference.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) moderate inflammatory response, decrease
allergic response; EFAs are found to be low in obese people.
Chromium helps regulate insulin and decrease insulin resistance.
Chromium may not be effective at burning fat, but it is effective at stabilizing
blood sugar and decreasing sugar
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific
homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or
more of the following treatments for sleep apnea based on their knowledge and
clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a
person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is
his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced
homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate
remedy for a particular individual.
Arsenicum album — for respiratory
disorders that worsen at night and are accompanied by fear, agitation,
restlessness, weakness, and exhaustion
Lachesis — for conditions that worsen
while trying to sleep; this remedy is most appropriate for those who are
intense, talkative, jealous, and may feel depressed (particularly in the
morning); also may be frightened of going to sleep
Opium — this remedy may be prescribed
for individuals with sleep apnea and narcolepsy (inability to control falling
asleep during the daytime); this remedy is appropriate for individuals who may
be somewhat confused due to the sleep disorder
Sambucus — for difficulty breathing at
night; this remedy is most appropriate for individuals who may have nasal
obstruction or asthma and actually jump up out of bed with a feeling of
Spongia — for respiratory symptoms
that are worsened by cold air and lying down; this remedy is appropriate for
individuals often feel a tightness in the chest area
Sulphur — for chronic conditions
accompanied by sleep disturbances and nightmares, especially if the individual
also has skin rashes that become worse with heat; this remedy is most
appropriate for individuals who prefer cold temperatures and strongly dislike
any kind of restriction
May be helpful in treating sleep
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can cause fatal heart problems, so
it's crucial to stick with your treatment plan. If you are using a mask and
ventilator equipment, be sure to take care of them. Keep in contact with your
health care provider or sleep clinic to make sure your treatment is
If you are pregnant, you may have nasal congestion that makes you snore in a
way that people with apnea do, but this is not apnea. If you have apnea and
become pregnant, be sure to continue your treatment so that your condition will
not affect your baby.
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Jonas WB, Jacobs J. Healing with Homeopathy: The Doctors' Guide. New
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Albany, Calif: Hahnemann Clinic Publishing; 1993.
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Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds, RPh, President,
Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA; Richard A. Lippin,
MD, President, The Lippin Group, Southampton, PA; Sherif H. Osman, MD,
President, Medical Staff Harford Memorial Hospital, Falston General Hospital,
Bel Air, MD; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP, George Washington University,
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