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Alternative Medicine for Sleep Apnea

By Eric Kezirian, M.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

A number of complementary and alternative approaches can be beneficial for sleep disorders. Although these recommendations have not been proven to be effective for sleep apnea specifically, they can be helpful in treating other common sleep disorders that a person with sleep apnea may also suffer from. There is no one approach that is better than others, so it is best to talk to your doctor, try various methods and use the ones that feel best for you.

Saltwater Rinse

Many individuals with obstructive and central sleep apnea also have nasal problems, whether related to allergies, sinus infections or trouble breathing through the nose. Spraying salt water into the nose (nasal saline) has demonstrated important benefits for people with a wide variety of nasal concerns. Nasal saline can be especially helpful for those using positive airway pressure therapy, as it can cause drying of mucus inside the nose. Nasal saline sprays range from simple squeeze bottles that spray a fine mist into the nose to larger bottles that can flush the nose.


Melatonin has shown substantial benefits in the treatment of insomnia, especially for individuals who have difficulty falling asleep at night. Melatonin is available over the counter, although there are some prescription medications that work similarly to the body’s natural melatonin system.

Sleeping Position

Sleeping on your side or on your stomach can help, as oftentimes people only have sleep apnea when sleeping on their backs. Some people naturally figure this out, and some need a little encouragement from someone sleeping next to them. However, it can be difficult at first for someone who is used to sleeping on his back to switch to side sleeping. There are a number of ways to help this transition. One is wearing a T-shirt to bed with a pocket sewn on the middle of the back to hold tennis balls, making it uncomfortable to sleep on your back. There are also specialized pillows and other padded devices that you can wear to sleep.

Getting Enough Sleep

Obstructive sleep apnea is generally worsened by sleep deprivation. A study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society suggests that adults should obtain 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep per night to promote health. Of course, obtaining enough sleep is important to counteract some of the potential sleep-disruption effects (such as sleepiness and fatigue) that may result from obstructive and central sleep apnea.

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