What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea has become a common health issue in America. When people with sleep apnea go into a deep sleep, their upper airways are blocked completely, thus the oxygen level will drop to an alarming low level. People can wake up more than 30 times due to the low level of oxygen, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and dementia. The common symptoms related to sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness, irritability, decreased concentration, memory loss, ED, and depression because the body cannot get deep rejuvenating sleep. CPAP is the most popular treatment for sleep apnea, which can open the airway and maintain the oxygen level by forcing the air into the airway. A patient with sleep apnea has a hard time moving around when they are using a CPAP machine during the night, which can lead to neck and back pain due to muscle spasm. Surgery can remove part of the tissue in the upper airway and help people to breath during sleep, but it can create scar tissue and does not address other factors leading to sleep apnea such as phlegm and inflammation in the upper airway. Oral appliances are other approaches but are very uncomfortable and many people with sleep apnea cannot tolerate to have something in their mouth for a whole night.

What number can we use to measure how effective the treatment for Sleep Apnea?

Apnea Index is the average number of pauses in breathing per hour of sleep.

Hypopnea index: is the average number of overly shallow breathing per hour of sleep.

SaO2: Oxygen saturation is a measurement of the percentage of how much hemoglobin is saturated with oxygen. Normal SaO2 is around 97%.

Apnea/hypopnea index (AHI) is calculated by adding the number of apneas ( pauses in breathing) and Hypopnea (periods of shallow breathing), divided by the number of hours of sleep. If AHI is less than 5, it is considered normal; from 5 to 15, it is considered mild sleep apnea; 15 to 30 is moderate sleep apnea, greater than 30 is defined as severe sleep apnea.

Acupuncture and Sleep Apnea

In Evd Based Complement alterat Med 2016, a review study investigated 6 randomized controlled clinical trials (RCT) for acupuncture and sleep apnea, which involve 362 patients. This review studies indicated that manual acupuncture can improve AHI, apnea index, hypopnea index, and the SaO2 (Saturation of Oxygen) when compared with the control group. On the other hand, electroacupuncture can improve AHI and Apnea index, but not the SaO2 in patients with sleep apnea. Using random effect models, this article found that two studies indicated manual acupuncture was more effective in improving AHI when compared with CPAP. Furthermore, MA can improve SaO2 more than CPAP for patients with sleep apnea.

NO adverse events such as infection, fainting, and hematoma were found in those six studies collected in 5 major databases during acupuncture treatment for sleep Apnea. According to our 27 years of acupuncture practices, electroacupuncture (EA) can be used to strengthen the muscles in the upper airway, therefore when people are in deep sleep, the airway will not collapse completely. Furthermore both EA and MA can be used to reduce the inflammation and clear up the phlegm to open up your upper airway more effectively.

How to prevent sleep apnea from the long run:

1. Reduce salt and sugar intake because they create phlegm and inflammation.
2. Reduce nuts intake, if you have severe sleep apnea because it induces histamine release.
3. Reduce alcohol intake because it leads to inflammation in your throat and causes an imbalance of your immune function.
4. Reduce spicy food, which can lead to an increase in phlegm in your throat.
5. Drink more water throughout the day.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Li Zheng and Bonnie Pearson author of this article. Li Zheng is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist. She has 26 years of clinical experience. She holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the US and is a Harvard Medical School-trained researcher and a professor at the New England School of Acupuncture. For more information please visit https://bostonchineseacupuncture.org/.