Medicine: Snore No More!

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops for at least 10 seconds at least 15 times per hour during sleep. It’s often accompanied by loud snoring and is considered to be a major cause of exhaustion during the day. Short of your spouse guessing that you have the condition, daytime sleepiness is one of the biggest symptomatic tip-offs to sleep apnea. On the extreme end, sleep apnea can cause you to wake abruptly gasping for air. In some cases it does not wake you but continues to cause blood oxygen levels to decline – often significantly – throughout the night; suffocating the heart, the brain, and all of the body’s cells. Each spell sets off alarms (take a breath!) making it all but impossible to move beyond the very lightest stage of non-­rapid eye movement sleep – forget about vivid dreaming!

There are a few changes you can make in your sleep habits that may reduce, or even resolve, sleep apnea.

  • Lose weight. It is dramatically beneficial for sleep apnea; a 10 percent weight loss produces a 26 percent reduction in apnea.
  • Reduce alcohol intake, especially later in the evening. Alcohol can over-relax the muscles in the throat and pharynx and contribute to their collapse.
  • Elevate your head by 30 degrees (pillow specialty stores sell wedges to place under your head) to reduce the force of gravity on your throat.
  • Switch to sleeping on your side instead of your back, again to avoid the forces of gravity. Use a pillow as a bolster to hold onto and help keep you in the side sleeping position.
  • Tenacious back sleepers can try the sleep ball technique, in which you actually attach a tennis ball to the seat of your pajamas to prevent you from sleeping on your back.

– By Woodson Merrell, M.D., author of Power Up

Excerpted from Power Up by Woodson Merrell, M.D. Copyright © 2008 by Woodson Merrell, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.