The Sleep Apnea Problem

Misunderstanding the Causes

There have been many instances over the years where the causes of certain diseases and conditions have been mistakenly identified as what were later learned to be just “symptoms” or merely “contributing factors.” For instance, it was once thought that stomach ulcers were caused primarily by certain emotional behaviors and by eating certain foods. Now we realize that although these factors may contribute to the occurrence of stomach ulcers, without the presence of H-Pylori bacteria, ulcers cannot form.

A similar situation is true with the present-day explanation of sleep apnea.

While we know that sagging tissue in the airway, certain personal habits, being overweight, and sleeping positions can aggravate sleep apnea, we too often have misidentified these as the cause of sleep apnea.

Unfortunately, once these beliefs get ingrained into our culture and are popularized, they can cause a great deal of reticence toward considering another and newly recognized cause.

This author suffers from sleep apnea and has spent many, many sleepless nights tossing and turning. I have tried chiropractic adjustments, various pillow configurations, sleeping positions, soft-palate exercises, holding air in my mouth, homeopathic sprays, vitamins, and other measures, but to no avail. Some of these procedures affected the symptoms slightly, but nothing actually completely resolved the problem.

Understanding the Problem

I studied sleep and dreaming in school and have a rather good understanding of physiology. My engineering background has allowed me to understand tissue dynamics and years of work in the medical equipment business have allowed me to understand small pressure differentials and membrane movements. During my early years, I also studied conscious dreaming, which is the activity of bringing conscious awareness into the dream state.

This unique and eclectic combination of insight and training facilitated my ability to observe subtle issues during the process of falling asleep. These are observations that most people would not make or understand. When you add to that the fact that I am a sleep apnea sufferer, it presents an interesting capability and learning environment that is far more focused, personalized and direct than EEG machines, EMG signals and standard sleep data analysis.

One night as I started to fall off to sleep (transition from Stage I to Stage II), I noticed that my breathing was diminishing. I found myself trying to fight this effect, but it was inevitable. The diminution in respiratory intensity would culminate in a period of breathing cessation. Then, after 10 seconds or so, I would rapidly inhale and literally suck my soft-palate into my throat causing a barely audible “snort.”

The “snort” is one of the most telling indications of sleep apnea.

I began observing this phenomenon with the aid of my wristwatch’s stopwatch function and found that I was “snorting” about every 90 to 120 seconds. The snort didn’t fully awaken me at all times. Some nights, it would take me an hour of poor quality sleep to recognize that this was occurring. Other nights, it was so profound that it caused me to awaken with each snort.

It was at this point that I began to experiment with various sleeping positions, pillows, holding air in my mouth, chiropractic adjustments, muscle massage and diet. I tried exercising my soft-palate and positioning my tongue. I tried everything that I could think of. It seemed that I had an identifiable issue that was causing my poor sleep and as a scientist, I was intent on investigating it and discovering its true cause.

As a person who was sleeping poorly, I was simply desperate for a good night’s sleep. I would suffer for three or sometimes five nights of terrible sleep and then from sheer and utter exhaustion, would sleep for a couple of nights. I was not overweight, I did not drink or smoke, and yet my sleep quality was poor and unhealthy.

Based on critical analysis, my background, and experience, I realized that it was the diminution of breathing intensity that was the driving factor. None of this would have been a problem if my breathing hadn’t stopped. Posturing my head with respect to gravity was merely reducing the aggravating factor of the sagging soft-palate. I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t stop breathing during the day, then I shouldn’t stop breathing at night.

This realization redirected and focused my experiments and observations on the issue of breathing cessation. All facts pointed to the diminution of the signal that was occurring as I transitioned into Stage II sleep. This was the turning point where I directed my attention away from chasing symptoms and towards understanding the actual cause of sleep apnea.

Creating the Solution

Shortly after this realization, I began studying herbs which have constituents that affect respiration. I immediately recognized the value of Lobelia and Thyme. Making a simple combination of these two and a couple of other herbs, I placed them into capsules and took them before bed. Much to my surprise, I slept without disturbance and (with continued use) have so ever since.

When you test a sample size of one, the only way to get reasonable data is to use an auto-correlation technique. What this means is, “will the tested sample be consistent with itself in subsequent tests when a single variable changes?”

Another way to put that is, “If I use the solution and the problem goes away, does it return when I stop using the solution?”

To test how it behaved with a different variable, I did not ingest the capsules the next night. Like before, I had a very disturbed night with breathing cessations every 90 seconds or so.

The next night, I used the herbal combination and slept wonderfully. The third night, I did not take the herbal combination and was once again disturbed by cessations every 90 seconds.

That same night, I got out of bed, took the herbal combination and after 30 to 45 minutes, fell fast asleep. This strong auto-correlation suggested to me that I was onto something.

What I had discovered was a common cause for Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea and a proposed remedy for them both. It was not a cure, as it didn’t eradicate the condition. But it was a very successful remedy and alleviated the problem.

I have used this combination of herbs every night since I defined the solution now more than twelve years ago. There are some nights where I use an antihistamine to reduce congestion (an aggravating factor), but my breathing cessations and the resultant disturbance to sleep have been reduced to the point of being insignificant as I use these simple naturally occurring herbs.

This chapter is what I have discovered to relieve my sleep apnea and I hope that in trying this remedy that I discovered, it will do the same for you.