Sleep Apnea & Natural Ways to Help You Cope With It

by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center

Sleep apnea is a common condition in which a person’s breathing is interrupted or paused during their sleep and is often preceded by heavy snoring. It is most common in men and older people, affecting more than 18 million Americans.

This condition is linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and other health conditions.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex.    

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type, affecting three to seven percent of the population, and is caused by a blockage in the airway. With obstructive sleep apnea, breathing stops because the throat muscles relax and the airway narrows as you sleep. The person struggles to breathe but cannot inhale effectively because the airway has collapsed.

With central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked, but the brain does not signal the muscles to breathe. Your brain does not send proper signaling to the muscles that control breathing—your brain does not tell your muscles to breathe. People with central sleep apnea periodically do not breathe at all or breathe so shallowly that oxygen intake is ineffectual.

Complex or combined sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central types. This type is often referred to as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.

Some Causes of Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is usually associated with a serious illness, especially an illness or injury in which the lower brainstem (which controls breathing) is affected. Risk factors include being 65 or older and being male. Other risk factors include having congestive heart failure, having had a stroke, neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or kidney failure, and using narcotic pain medications.

Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea are mostly due to the narrowing of the airway. Excess weight greatly increases your risk because the fat deposits around your throat and neck can obstruct your breathing.

A narrowed airway can also be due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Nasal congestion from seasonal allergies can also cause difficulty in breathing. This increases your likelihood of developing sleep apnea. There is also a close association between obstructive sleep apnea and asthma.

Using alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers relaxes the muscles in your throat. Smoking can also cause or worsen your condition.


Symptoms of sleep apnea include severe snoring, excessive daytime fatigue or sleepiness, morning headaches, waking with a dry mouth, irritability, difficulty concentrating, low energy, and unrefreshing sleep.

One of the main symptoms is loud or severe snoring. Gasping for air or choking during sleep. You may awaken out of breath during the night. Usually, people with sleep apnea have difficulty staying asleep.

Sleep apnea also impacts your daytime function, so you may notice excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty with concentration or attention.

Some Natural Strategies

Some natural strategies may help you achieve optimal sleep. While the following strategies are not FDA-approved to prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure sleep apnea, they can improve overall sleep quality. By addressing factors in your life contributing to sleep apnea, there is a good chance you can lessen the health impact it has on you.

One of the best strategies for improving sleep apnea is to consume a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and eliminate foods that promote inflammation. Even healthy foods can be inflammatory if you have a sensitivity or intolerance to that food, so be sure to remove any foods to which you are sensitive.

Healthy fats are an essential part of a healing diet. Healthy fats are found in coconut, olives, avocados, and their oils, as well as in grass-fed butter and ghee. These healthy fats are an efficient source of fuel for the body to combat inflammation and support brain function.

High inflammatory foods that may aggravate sleep apnea are refined sugars and grains and any foods that are easily metabolized into sugar. In addition, highly processed vegetable oils, such as canola, grapeseed, and safflower, are highly inflammatory. They upregulate inflammation and create extra acidity in the tissues.

Foods rich in antioxidants are good to consume. They are found in many fruits and vegetables. Look for colorful fruits and vegetables such as berries, avocados, citrus fruits, spinach, sweet potatoes, kale, and red peppers.

Losing excess weight can be helpful. Around 60-70 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. Weight loss has been shown to be very effective in reducing the symptoms related to obstructive sleep apnea.

Regular exercise is beneficial for preventing and improving sleep apnea. Exercise has many health benefits, including increasing your energy level, helping you lose weight, and strengthening your muscles.

Research shows that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids are linked to better quality sleep, falling asleep more quickly, and improved daytime performance. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, nuts (especially walnuts), and seeds such as flaxseeds and chia seeds. If you opt for a supplement, you will want to find a brand that is molecularly distilled to take out any heavy metals and other unwanted contaminants. If you do take a supplement, be sure to discuss this with your practitioner, as they have a blood-thinning effect and can be contraindicated if you are on blood-thinning medications.

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to obstructive sleep apnea and the activation of numerous inflammatory processes. Low levels of vitamin D can contribute to and worsen the impact of sleep apnea on glucose metabolism.

Ensuring you have healthy levels of magnesium can be helpful in improving sleep apnea. Magnesium is an essential macro-mineral that the body needs in large amounts. Low magnesium levels are linked to poor quality sleep. Foods high in magnesium are dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts, dairy products, and certain vegetables like broccoli. You can also do Epsom salt baths to support your magnesium levels.

Breathing through your nose, rather than your mouth, as you sleep promotes more restful and better quality sleep. When we breathe from our noses, this activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system signals rest, regeneration, healing, and digestion. Nose breathing lowers stress hormones, aids digestion and healing, and promotes relaxation.

Mouth breathing, on the other hand, activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system activates our fight or flight response, signaling the production of greater amounts of stress hormones and elevating blood sugar. This can interfere with sleep and contribute to sleep apnea.

Signs that you may be breathing from your mouth at night are bad morning breath, dry mouth/thirst in the morning, and poor oral hygiene issues.

Changing your sleep position can relieve obstructive sleep apnea by improving airflow. Sleeping flat on your back causes the throat to relax and block your airway.

Elevating your head and sleeping on your side can prevent relaxed throat muscles from blocking your airway and make breathing easier. Elevating your head around four inches helps your tongue and jaw move forward during sleeping.

Following these additional strategies to improve sleep quality may help improve your sleep apnea. If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health.

The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at

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