Acupuncture Can Help with Sleep Apnea

Acupuncture Can Help with Sleep Apnea

            Acupuncture for sleep apnea can help those suffering from it which is estimated by researchers to be 26% of people in the United States. Unfortunately, it is also estimated that 80% of people with sleep apnea are not being treated for it. There are several treatment options for sleep apnea, all of which are help. Acupuncture is one of many possible treatment options for sleep apnea, and can help patients with their quality of life or even to remove the need for treatment devices or surgery.

Sleep Apnea Basics

            Sleep apnea essentially disrupts the breathing of the person affected for short periods as they sleep, potentially causing a decrease in oxygen forcing the person to wake through the night even slightly. With these multiple wake-ups, sleep apnea also causes the affected person not able to get proper REM sleep.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea:

  • Loud snoring

  • Headaches when waking

  • Daytime sleepiness

  • Dry mouth or sore throat

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Getting up a lot during the night

  • Waking up short of breath
The trouble is that the person with sleep apnea may not realize they are having multiple disturbances to their breathing all the while having sleep apnea. Having sleep apnea without knowing or treating it puts the patient at a higher risk of heart disease as well as metabolic health.

Types of Sleep Apnea:

  • Central Sleep Apnea – this type of sleep apnea is not as common, and it happens when the brain is not sending correct signals to the muscles that are responsible in breathing.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea – this type of sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea, and it happens when the tongue blocks the air from getting to the back of the throat.

  • Complex Sleep Apnea – also known as treatment emergent sleep apnea which is a combination of both above forms of sleep apnea.
Much like acupuncture providers, western medicine providers also offer information on lifestyle changes that can be made in order to possibly help with a patient’s sleep apnea diagnosis.

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Sleep Apnea:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Changing sleep position

  • Abstaining from the use of sedatives

  • Use a humidifier

  • Exercise

  • Quit smoking

  • Prop the head up

  • Use of a CPAP machine
All of these are helpful in improving sleep apnea, and ironically, some of which are able to be treated with acupuncture as well.

Acupuncture Treatment for Sleep Apnea

            Acupuncture works to ignite the muscles of the upper respiratory system airways that often collapse during sleep apnea episodes. While CPAP machines are effective for controlling a patient’s breathing throughout the night, many patients have trouble sleeping comfortably while using these types of machines. If acupuncture treatment can reduce or eliminate the need for a patient’s use for these machines, that will make their treatment all the more beneficial. Additionally, acupuncture treatment may increase blood oxygen saturation levels and as a result, lower the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is usually related to Qi and Phlegm stagnation which is usually the case for sleep related issues.

Sleep Apnea Acupuncture Points:

  • KD6 Zhaohai

  • SP6 Sanyinjiao

  • EX-HN1 Sishencong

  • HT7 Shenmen

  • ST36 Zusanli

  • CV23 Lianquan

Herbs for Sleep Apnea:

  • Herbal formula B210 – this formula contains 2 herbs, and a study from 2018 showed this formula to decrease snoring. The 2 herbs in this formula are:
    • Gastrodia Elata – a saprophytic perennial herb

    • Cinnamomum Cassia – commonly known as Chinese cinnamon or Chinese cassia, and is an evergreen tree used for their bark often used as a spice.
  • San Huang Xie Xin Wan – responsible for clearing heat and relieving toxicity.
In addition to the usual helpful acupuncture and herbal treatment, there are also other options in TCM that are not as widely practiced in relation to treating sleep apnea.

Other TCM Sleep Apnea Treatment Options:

  • Tongue Exercises – when it comes to sleep apnea, the tongue blocks the airway, and there are TCM exercises that can be done in addition to acupuncture and herbal remedies to help.
    • Stick the tongue out with the head back and try to touch your nose. Hold this for 10 seconds while swallowing once during the hold, and repeat five times.

    • Stick the tongue out with the head back and try to touch your chin. Hold this for 10 seconds while swallowing once during the hold, and repeat five times.

    • Tucking the chin against the chest, retract the tongue backwards to the upper palate. Hold this for 10 seconds while swallowing once during the hold, and repeat five times.
  • Six Healing Sounds meditation – an ancient meditation for health and healing, and each sound spoken balances a different organ system, and designed to prevent sleep apnea. The patient can even do this at home if taught how to do it properly. The patient will sit on the edge of the chair with proper posture, and feet flat on the floor with palms on the thighs and knees slightly apart. There are six sounds that are used for this meditation: Shu (Liver), Haa (Heart), Hoo (Stomach), Si (Lungs), Foo (Kidneys), Hee (chest, pelvis, and abdominal cavities).
    • Exhaling Sound – exhale from the lower abdomen to begin with, and at the end of the exhale from the throat repeating each sound five times. This should be much longer than the inhalation.

    • Inhaling Sound – first, all inhalations should be through the nose into the lower abdomen. Second, inhale through the mouth while making the same sound through the throat to begin with and at the end of the inhale, the abdomen making sure to have the patient contract the abdomen while on the inhale.
These are all ways that acupuncture providers can help treat and/or prevent the progression of sleep apnea. Ultimately, we want to reduce mucus production and accumulation in the sinuses in addition to encouraging proper weight, and acupuncture treatment to improve the function of the throat, mouth, and jaws in order to open the airways and prevent soft palate collapse.
While sleep apnea may not seem like a huge issue, if it goes untreated, this can cause patients to develop other related conditions, including heart disease. About 40,000 people with sleep apnea each year die from heart disease. A recent study in 2020 found acupuncture to be effective in treating sleep apnea improving apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) and Epworth sleepiness scores (ESS). There is a randomized clinical trial also in the works as of 2023 to determine the efficacy of electro-acupuncture on patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea which is expected to deliver positive results as well.