When you’ve received a diagnosis of sleep apnea, you may wonder what treatments are available for your condition. Doing nothing about your sleep apnea can bring on risk factors for heart problems or even stroke. But not every person who suffers from sleep apnea needs a medical device. If your sleep apnea is mild, you may find natural ways to combat your apnea episodes. But how does a sleep apnea pillow work to help you breathe better? Learn about what a sleep apnea pillow is and how it might work for you.
Treating Sleep Apnea
When your doctor diagnoses you with sleep apnea, you find out the severity of your problem. There are different levels of sleep apnea determined by your AHI (apnea/hypopnea index):
- Mild Sleep Apnea: AHI is more than 5 apnea events per hour but less than 15
- Moderate Sleep Apnea: AHI is more than 15 apnea events per hour but less than 30
- Severe Sleep Apnea: AHI is more than 30 apnea events per hour
Our current US population is 326 million people:
- 10% have mild obstructive sleep apnea (AHI>5)
- 3.5% have moderate obstructive sleep apnea (AHI>15)” (1)
There may be ways to improve your sleep without medical treatment with mild to moderate sleep apnea disorder. Of course, always work with your ENT doctor to determine the best treatments in your particular case. Without treatment, sleep apnea can increase your risk of debilitating health events.
Positional Treatments for Sleep Apnea
Everyone has their favorite sleep position– on tummy with feet hanging off the bed, fetal position curled into a cozy ball, on the back with fingers lightly interlaced. However, the way you sleep may impact the way you breathe. Positional treatments for snoring involve changing the position you sleep in. This change in position may facilitate opening the throat and help you breathe better. Let’s look at some studies involving positional therapy.
According to a study in Sleep and Breathing, a uniquely designed pillow (SONA Pillow) reduces the number of apnea events in patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. The SONA Pillow is a triangular pillow with space to place your arm under the head while sleeping on the side.
Researchers studied 22 patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, including 11 mild, 8 moderate, and 3 severe sleep apnea patients. The pillow was an effective and easily used treatment for mild and moderate obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. Apnea events decreased on average from 17 events per hour to fewer than 5 events per hour while utilizing the pillow. Also, snoring was decreased or eliminated. (2)
Positional Therapy and Snoring
While obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) events may vary depending on your sleep position, your position’s effect on snoring depends on the severity of your sleep apnea.
A study in Sleep looked at 72 patients who complained of chronic snoring. The patients without sleep apnea decreased their snoring by sleeping on their side. However, the patients with sleep apnea had variable outcomes. The OSA patients who had higher levels of sleep apnea still snored when sleeping on their side.
This study showed that snorers with proven severe sleep apnea might not benefit from positional treatment. OSA patients often fail to decrease snoring even in the side sleep position. (3)
But is it possible that side sleeping may still benefit those with severe sleep apnea?
Another study involved severe sleep apnea patients who suffered an average of 70.1 apnea events per hour. These patients had already demonstrated that positional therapy did not reduce sleep apnea events in a separate study. However, this study showed that apneic events happening while sleeping on their back were “significantly more severe” than the events while sleeping on their side.
So, even though severe sleep apnea sufferers were still snoring while sleeping on their side, their apnea episodes were less severe. When sleeping on their back, apnea events more often woke them up. While sleeping on their side, they woke up less often. Only 4 of 900 apneic events woke them while sleeping on their sides. However, while sleeping on their back, 37 apneic events out of 900 ended in awakening.
So, even in patients with severe OSA who have the same number of apneic events sleeping on their side and back, sleep apnea episodes are more severe when sleeping on their back. Even though severe sleep apnea patients have the same number of events sleeping on their side and back, the nature of those apnea events is less severe sleeping on their side. (4)
Can a Sleep Apnea Pillow Help Me Breathe Better?
The bottom line is that many people with sleep apnea and snoring benefit from side-sleeping. If there is a pillow or other positional device that can help you stay in a side-sleeping position, you may want to consider trying positional therapies for yourself.
However, it is crucial to stay in touch with your ENT doctor to ensure that your choice of treatment works for you. Sleep studies can help doctors see whether sleeping on your side with a particular choice of pillow may benefit your sleep apnea enough to keep you healthy and sleeping well.
We Can Help
At Enticare, whether you suffer from mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea, our ENT specialists help you find solutions to sleep better. From a sleep apnea pillow to medical devices such as CPAP or Inspire, to positional therapies and medication, we are here to help. Schedule a diagnostic sleep study to find out more about your sleep apnea or whether you may suffer from other sleep disorders. Find a way to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on your day again. Contact us today to find out how we can help.