Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with sleep apnea? Unfortunately, sleep-disordered breathing is becoming more and more common – not just in adults but also in children. Sleep apnea is a condition where people stop breathing multiple times throughout the night, leading to unrefreshing sleep and raising your risk for serious health conditions over time. After all, if you cannot sleep, you cannot heal.
What Are the Types of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is divided into three categories: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. It’s caused by an obstruction of the airway, most often due to obesity, but may also be due to inflammation or structural issues. Anything that obstructs the airway, whether by swollen tissues or structural issues, can lead to an OSA diagnosis. While most frequently diagnosed in adults, children may also develop OSA due to swollen tonsils or adenoids or poor facial development due to a tongue tie or mouth breathing.
The medical field treats OSA with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or other similar machines. Doctors may also prescribe a customized splint, which draws the lower jaw forward, opening the airway. In extreme cases where OSA doesn’t respond to other measures, doctors may recommend surgery. Obesity is a risk factor for OSA, so a wise medical provider should (hopefully) also address dietary and lifestyle habits. According to a 2020 study, reducing your weight by 10% (losing 20 pounds if you’re currently 200) within five years of diagnosis doubles your chances of achieving remission at five years.
Central sleep apnea (CSA) is sleep-disordered breathing that is not due to airway obstruction. Instead, it’s a lessening or complete cessation of the respiratory rhythm originating in the brain. Inflammation in the brain can affect how your brain sends signals to the chest muscles and airway, impacting breathing patterns. Some causes of CSA include heart failure, neuromuscular diseases like ALS or stroke, overuse of medications that depress the central nervous system (opioids), spinal cord injury, or scoliosis. Anything that leads to chronic inflammation in the brain, including gut issues, infections, toxicity, and more, can lead to CSA.
Medical treatment for CSA involves treating other health issues, like heart failure, reducing opioid medications, CPAP or other machines, or medications to stimulate breathing. Again, their answers are either a machine or more meds.
In 2006, the Mayo Clinic introduced the concept of Complex Sleep Apnea. With this type, people have both obstructive and central SA. It’s not surprising that inflammation would occur in the brain while obesity or other issues also obstruct the airway. The medical field treats complex sleep apnea by addressing the causes of both obstructive and central SA.
Why The Increase in Sleep Apnea?
Sadly, there has been a massive increase in sleep apnea diagnoses in the last few decades. There are several reasons for this, including the deterioration of the American diet (with increased obesity), increased toxicity and inflammation, and changes in our spine and facial structure due to modern lifestyle factors. All these contributors can be summed up in three words: trauma, toxins, and thoughts.
The concept of the Three Ts causing distress to the nervous system originally came from chiropractic care; however, they also apply to chronic conditions like sleep apnea. At The Wellness Way, we go back to these physical, biochemical, and emotional causes of illness. Here’s how trauma, toxins, and thoughts contribute to sleep apnea.
A little-known physical cause of sleep apnea is postural issues, such as a “tech neck,” “military neck,” or “welder’s neck.” Tech neck is a situation of a forward head posture, which negatively impacts the airway. A military neck is a straight neck with a loss of curvature. It’s the body’s adaptation that helps create more space for the airway. A welder’s neck happens when welders use a quick head nod to close the front of the helmet, leading to chronic multiple whiplash injuries and cervical trauma.
Because of its proximity to the upper airway, things like bone spurs, tumors, and misalignments in the cervical spine can cause or contribute to sleep apnea. A study published in the European Spine Journal found that problems in the neck region, including rheumatoid arthritis and misalignments, could increase the risk of sleep apnea in certain people.
Sleep apnea can also arise from poor facial development, usually accompanied by low tongue placement, which impacts the shape of the upper palate and leads to a smaller airway. This usually happens as a response to an unaddressed tongue tie or chronic mouth breathing. In this situation, the face is long rather than broad. The upper palate and airway become narrowed, restricting breathing patterns.
Biochemical contributors to sleep apnea include food allergies, infections, and liver toxicity from medications, pesticides, and other chemicals. The liver is crucial to health because it filters into every other system in the body. Toxicity and inflammation in the liver leads to inflammation throughout the body. These are just a few contributors to test for using a food allergy test, immune panel, or gut health test:
- Food allergies – eating allergenic foods is a biochemical stressor
- Too much sugar –especially, high fructose corn syrup
- Environmental allergies –pollen, animal dander
- Infections –bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic
- Medications –especially benzodiazepines, opioids, muscle relaxants, and male hormone replacement.
- Personal care products – including hormone-disrupting phthalates.
- Household cleaning – conventional cleaning products.
- Environmental chemicals –pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, fluoride, chemical fertilizers, new car smell, new building construction, etc.
This is only a short list of general categories; there are many heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, mold infections, and more that could be causing toxicity and inflammation and making it difficult for the body to heal.
Ongoing mental and emotional stressors can also contribute to sleep apnea. Stress contributes to inflammation, which is a key contributor to sleep apnea because inflamed, swollen tissues lead to a restricted airway. Thought-related stressors may include fear or worry about the future, overwhelm from life in general, pent-up anger, grief or other feelings from loss, and other emotional stressors from relationships, work, etc.
The Fireman and Carpenter Principle
One of our favorite illustrations at The Wellness Way is something Dr. Flynn has named The Fireman and Carpenter Principle:
This concept states that you need different professionals at different times in your healing journey. When your house is on fire, you need a fireman with an ax and a hose. It’s a quick fix that can keep you alive in the short term. Traditional medicine is the fireman, while The Wellness Way is the carpenter.
How Does Mainstream Healthcare Address Sleep Apnea?
The “Fireman doctors” have two tools: an axe and a hose. In this case, traditional healthcare literally provides you with a hose… in the form of a CPAP. Sometimes you do need a quick fix. It’s not good to fall asleep at work or worse, while driving. A CPAP machine can help you get needed rest while you make the lifestyle changes to help your body heal. Just keep in mind that the CPAP, BiPAP, mandibular advancement device, etc., are just temporary solutions. They put the fire out, but you still need to rebuild the house.
Fireman doctors may also choose to use the “axe” and do surgery. According to Mayo Clinic, some surgical options include:
- Tissue removal – Usually from the back of the mouth and top of the throat. Your tonsils and adenoids will likely have to go as well.
- Tissue shrinkage – Using radiofrequency ablation, doctors shrink that same area of tissue.
- Jaw repositioning – A surgery moves the jaw forward, away from the remainder of the facial bones, creating more space.
- Implants – polyester or plastic rods are implanted into the soft palate to keep the area open.
- Nerve stimulation – Surgery to insert a nerve stimulator which keeps the tongue from blocking the airway.
- Tracheostomy – Surgery to create a new air passageway with a metal or plastic tube inserted into your neck.
Most of these solutions sound either painful or aggravating. They address the issue of a blocked airway but may have many negative side effects.
That’s where the carpenter comes in. The carpenter brings his truck full of tools to clean up the debris, rebuild the house, and make it an attractive home once again. The Wellness Way practitioners “take measurements” (tests) and then create a plan to rebuild. The rebuilding process takes time and resources, but when finished, you have a strong, healthy home to live in once again.
Address Sleep the Wellness Way
The Wellness Way looks at the body and sees a network of systems that work in harmony, like the gears of a Swiss Watch. Everything is connected. That’s why it’s important to do testing to see which of the three T’s (often more than one) is causing chronic inflammation and sleep apnea. Some people have a ten-piece puzzle and others have 1000. That’s why there’s no single answer to this condition.
Important Tests for Sleep Apnea
The tests we recommend for sleep apnea are the same as a regular medical clinic:
- Nocturnal polysomnography – This test is done in a sleep clinic. You spend the night there, and they hook you up to equipment that monitors your heart rate, breathing patterns, brain activity, arm and leg movements, and oxygen levels through the night.
- Home sleep tests – Take home tests can come from your clinic or your dentist. They measure heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and breathing patterns remotely.
Dietary Changes for Sleep Apnea:
The Wellness Way dietary recommendations for sleep apnea center around eliminating sugar, lowering carbs, and reducing inflammation. That can be done through the following:
- Personalized Nutrition, based on your food allergy test results
- Organic, whole foods
- Non-inflammatory, no sugar
- Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for added nutrition.
Supplementation for Sleep Apnea
Common supplements used at The Wellness Way for Sleep Apnea include supporting the lungs and the liver:
Your Wellness Way practitioner will help determine which supplements will work best for you.
Everyone has a different combination of the three T’s that must be addressed so the body can heal itself. For some, it’s related to a spinal subluxation more than anything else. For others, it improves after a change in diet and weight loss. For many, it’s a combination of gut issues, scoliosis, structural issues in the airway, and inflammation from food allergies. This is exactly why “we don’t guess; we test!” Contact a Wellness Way Clinic near you and begin your journey back to restorative sleep!
- Sleep Apnea – What Is Sleep Apnea? | NHLBI, NIH
- Obesity and sleep: a growing concern – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Behaviour change, weight loss and remission of Type 2 diabetes: a community-based prospective cohort study – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Central Sleep Apnea – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Mayo Clinic Discovers New Type Of Sleep Apnea — ScienceDaily
- Sleep apnea and cervical spine pathology – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Craniofacial dystrophy. A possible syndrome? – PubMed (nih.gov)
- [Drugs affecting obstructive sleep apnea syndrome] – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The relationship between inflammation and neurocognitive dysfunction in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov)