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Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

Have you ever heard someone snoring so loudly it woke you up in the middle of the night? While making some noise during sleep can be perfectly normal, when snoring becomes uncharacteristically loud and thunderous, it may be a symptom of sleep apnea. This occurs strictly during sleep, when the muscles in the back of the throat lose their rigidity and slacken, leaving one struggling for air in the middle of the night. This is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder, also called obstructive sleep apnea, which can take a serious toll on one's daily energy reserves and emotional bearing.

It can be serious and deserves immediate medical treatment because the body becomes starved of oxygen. Normally, the lungs take in oxygen through the breath in and release carbon dioxide with the breath out. This continual cycle of breathing provides nourishment and cleansing for the whole body. In the case of sleep apnea, however, when the muscles surrounding the breathing airway contract, airflow to and from the lungs is restricted. A person may stop breathing for a just a few seconds, or, in a worse case scenario, up to a minute.

According to the theory of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, when there is interference in the flow of breathing, sleeping or other bodily functions, it may be the result of a condition known as Qi stagnation. Qi is the most essential force necessary for healing and sustaining life. A stagnation of lung Qi may be impeding the breathing cycle. Other signs that lung Qi is failing include waking with a dry mouth (due to the fact that not enough air is being pulled in through the nose), daytime fatigue and irritability.

One of the vital roles of the lung organ is to protect the body from invaders -- in other words, it serves as a vital component of the immune system. From the perspective of a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, it is doubly important to provide an acupuncture treatment that disperses stagnant lung Qi. One, so the patient can maintain an effortless breathing pattern while asleep; two, the immune system needs support to avoid potential medical complications that may result from sleep apnea, such as fatigue, heart problems, high blood pressure and abnormal liver functions.

Some sleep apnea patients may benefit from the use of an acupuncture point called Lieque. It is found near the wrist and is part of the lung meridian. A meridian is a pathway that distributes Qi throughout the body. Lieque has the ability to help the lungs disperse and descend Qi. When the lungs do not properly perform this job, symptoms such as snoring, shortness of breath and coughing may occur. Needling this point can also relieve the sensation of a stuffy chest and throat.

A Brazilian study entitled "Treatment of Moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome with Acupuncture: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Trial", published in the medical journal Sleep Medicine, achieved some very favorable results. The trial included 36 participants who were randomly assigned to be in one of three groups. The control group received no treatment, the study group received the correct acupuncture treatments for their conditions, while the sham group received acupuncture that did not treat their symptoms.

The researchers found that patients in the study group experienced a statistically significant drop in the amount of respiratory events during the night, in comparison to both the sham acupuncture and the control group. Respiratory events, in the case of sleep apnea, refer to the amount of times a patient stops breathing. It is worth noting that the control group actually experienced an increase in the amount of respiratory events. It was also concluded that patients in the study group enjoyed a noteworthy increase in their overall quality of life.

If you ever wake with a headache and feel exhausted even after sleeping all night or have ever had someone tell you that you sound like a freight train when you snore, find an Acupuncturist near you to discuss your concerns and symptoms.

About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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