Living With Sleep Apnea

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020 | Last updated: March 2023

Living with a chronic sleep disorder like sleep apnea often impacts a person’s entire life. Long-term health, school, work, friendships, and intimacy may all suffer if sleep apnea is left untreated. The good news is that lifestyle changes and treatment can improve, or even reverse, the negative aspects caused by sleep apnea.

Sleep habits to improve sleep apnea

If you have sleep apnea, the first thing you doctor will probably talk to you about are your sleep habits. This is also called sleep hygiene. Modern living tends to undermine good sleep habits, so even simple changes can make a big difference in how well you sleep. Common suggestions include:1

  • Setting aside enough time to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same times 7 days a week
  • Turning off lights and electronic devices an hour before bedtime
  • Removing the TV and other electronics from the bedroom
  • Making the bedroom comfortable and cool

Getting more sleep and better quality sleep can help improve daytime sleepiness and concentration problems common with sleep apnea.

Lifestyle changes for sleep apnea

Lifestyle changes that help sleep apnea include losing weight, changing sleep positions, and avoiding alcohol, even during the daytime. Common drugs that may make sleep apnea worse include cold and allergy medicines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, some antidepressants, and opioids.1

Diet changes and weight loss for sleep apnea

Many but not all people who have sleep apnea are also overweight. Doctors believe that physical changes in the body caused by sleep apnea make it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. However, weight loss can improve or even eliminate the symptoms of sleep apnea. It can also reduce the severity of conditions common in people with sleep apnea such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, and diabetes.1

Exercise and relaxation for sleep apnea

Exercise can also improve sleep apnea, even without weight loss. If you have sleep apnea, daily exercise can help you sleep better at night. Even a short walk of 10 to 30 minutes, taken a few hours before bedtime, can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can take 1-2 months of daily, or near-daily, exercise to see benefits.1,2

Keeping your CPAP machine clean

If you use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to treat your sleep apnea, you should take special care to keep it clean. This will help the machine last longer and work better. The mask and tubing of the machine can build up germs without regular maintenance. Most machines can be easily cleaned with a mild soap, air drying, and rinsing with a vinegar and water solution. You may also need to have your machine checked once a year by a professional.3

Mental health and sleep apnea

Depression and anxiety are common among people with sleep apnea. Plus, fatigue, poor mood, and problems concentrating are common in people with sleep apnea because they do not get enough sleep. Using a CPAP machine all night, every night can help treat sleep apnea and depression and anxiety at the same time. However, some antidepressants can make sleep apnea symptoms worse.1,2

Smoking and sleep apnea

Smoking and vaping can interfere with sleep because nicotine is a stimulant. Smoke also decreases the amount of oxygen circulating in your lungs. If you have sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend that you stop smoking as one of many lifestyle changes to improve sleep.2

School, work, and sleep apnea

Sometimes people with sleep apnea fall asleep easily during the day at school or work, or even at parties. Problems concentrating are also common and impact productivity. Improving sleep habits, losing weight, more exercise, and using a CPAP machine consistently can improve school and work performance.2,4

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