Behavioral Measures for Treating Sleep Disordered Breathing

Positional therapy

Some people only have sleep apnea symptoms when they’re sleeping on their back. Those individuals can effectively resolve or reduce their sleep disordered breathing by sleeping exclusively on their side. Positional therapy is not appropriate for everyone and for many will not provide enough relief when used on its own.

There are several approaches to train yourself to avoid sleeping on your back. One easy method is to sew a tube sock lengthwise down the back of a sleep shirt and then put 2-3 tennis balls inside the sock. This will make it uncomfortable to lie on your back. You can also use foam positional pillows to manage your sleep position. Or you can buy an alarm that can sense when you roll onto your back and will sound an alarm to cue you to change positions. While these types of tools can be helpful, positional therapy has its limitations because there’s no fool proof method to control body position. Therefore, it’s critical that you discuss this approach with your sleep physicians so you understand the risks of untreated sleep apnea.

Weight loss

Sleep disordered breathing can be related to obesity, so for some over-weight individuals, losing weight can reduce or eliminate their symptoms. However, dieting and weight loss can be a very difficult task given the daytime fatigue that often accompanies sleep apnea. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about using a PAP therapy as a tool for weight loss. Treating the apnea can give you the energy you need to maintain a healthy diet and exercise program to lose weight.
You should be aware that weight isn’t the only factor for sleep disordered breathing. If there are anatomic abnormalities present, weight loss alone won’t be sufficient to normalize breathing.

Avoiding alcohol and sedative medication

Alcohol use and sedative medication impairs breathing during sleep by relaxing the muscles that support the airway, making it more likely to collapse. In addition, they blunt the body’s reaction to low oxygen levels. Even people who normally don't snore can have issues after a night of drinking. So if you have untreated sleep apnea, the consequences of alcohol and sedative use will be even more dramatic.