We all know that good sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and one of the secrets to longevity and overall happiness. However, if you suffer from insomnia, depression, or even sleep apnea, a sound night’s sleep can seem like an impossibility for you. You may have heard some tips on sleep hygiene, including limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, getting daily exercise and avoiding exposure to artificial light close to bedtime. However, recent studies are showing that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques can improve sleep-affecting ailments such as insomnia, depression, stress and even sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that affects more than 18 million Americans. Often characterized by chronic snoring, it occurs when breathing is consistently interrupted during sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness as well as possible health problems. The standard treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine, which is a face mask attached to a machine that increases air pressure in the throat so the airway doesn’t collapse when the sufferer breathes in. It can be uncomfortable, cumbersome, and ineffective for about half of apnea patients.
Other treatments for sleep apnea include lifestyle changes such as weight loss, surgery and oral appliances. Many patients, when faced with the difficulties that these treatments present, opt not to treat their sleep apnea at all. However, left untreated, the combination of low-quality rest and oxygen deprivation can lead to more serious health issues such as mood and memory problems, hypertension, and even heart disease.
Alternative Treatment Methods
As we can see, it’s important for sleep apnea patients to have a variety of options when it comes to relieving their symptoms. We are currently involved in some research with Dr. Blair Bittner DMD who has helped to popularize the Apnea Mouth Guard Appliance, known as the mandibular advancement device, in Veterans who suffer from a dual diagnosis of sleep apnea and PTSD. The Oral Guard is an alternative method of treatment that is better accepted by the patient than the cumbersome CPAP. Here at the SMPC, we will be studying the effects of mindfulness modalities in helping those using the Oral Guard adapt to sleeping with it. We can certainly see where Veterans with a double diagnosis of sleep apnea and PTSD—something that could lead to more serious disorders, such as addictive behavior or other psychopathologies—would benefit from Dr. Bittner’s oral appliance, as well as learning how to practice mindfulness modalities and introspective breathing.
One study tested the effectiveness of regular use of a didgeridoo, an indigenous Australian wind instrument, to treat sleep apnea and snoring. While this idea may seem like a strange suggestion, experts agree that respiratory muscle training is a great addition to weight loss, diet and avoidance of sleeping on the back to curb these issues.
Circulatory breath therapy involves combining orofacial exercises with throat exercises to strengthen your tongue, soft palate, throat muscles and diaphragm. These activities have been reported to reduce snoring and improve the quality of sleep, therefore also improving daytime drowsiness and alertness. In short, these types of alternative treatment show promise as a cheap choice for relief from this life-altering affliction.
MBSR and Sleep Apnea: A Myriad of Advantages
Not only can MBSR techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises help curb the anxiety related to sleep apnea, it also shows some promising benefits for improving the symptoms specific to the disease. Mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to improve sleep efficiency and decreased wake time, which is beneficial for all people who have sleep-related issues in general.
What’s more, sleep apnea has been linked with more than just a physical issue in the muscles used to breathe. Doctors and medical professionals now know that sleep apnea can also be caused by a lack of neural communication between the brain and the impulses that control breathing during sleep. Since mindfulness meditation has been shown to strengthen neural pathways and can even create new ones, this shows potential as a viable treatment option for the many causes of this complicated disease.
MBSR practices like yogic breathing can also benefit those who suffer from sleep apnea by addressing the oxygen depravation issue. Deep, meditative breathing helps improve the body’s ability to circulate and absorb oxygen while also strengthening the mechanisms involved in breathing, combating the issues involved two-fold.
Another recent study has shown that better sleep and reduced sleep apnea symptoms are linked to having a purpose in life, or, put more simply, living a happier, more fulfilled existence. Many other articles we’ve published have touted the ability of MBSR techniques to improve your quality of life, from stress reduction to trauma recovery to freedom from addiction.
We here at the Stress Management and Prevention Center have seen first-hand how our offerings can help people from many walks lead a happier, more fulfilled life. Whether it be freedom from addiction, trauma, stress, depression or any of their health-threatening side effects, MBSR techniques have the potential to help you grow and thrive as a person. Do you struggle with sleep-related issues like insomnia and sleep apnea? Have you ever experienced the life-changing benefits of meditation, life coaching and yoga? If you think you could improve your well-being from talking with our professionals, we would love for you to join us.