Harvard Health Letter

Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea

A range of choices may help you get a better night's sleep.

obstructive sleep apnea
Image: Courtsey of Carpenter Co.

When the doctor says you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you'll likely hear about the gold standard in treatment: continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which uses forced air, pushed through a tube connected to a face mask, to keep your airway unblocked. Yet many people have trouble adjusting to a bulky CPAP mask. "We often see people who say they tried CPAP and didn't like it, and now it's been years since they've had treatment," says Dr. Stuart Quan, the Gerald E. McGinnis professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School.

You may be able to adjust to CPAP by trying relaxation exercises, practicing wearing the mask during the day, and gradually increasing CPAP pressure. But if it doesn't work out, you do have alternatives.

Gadget-free options

Dr. Quan estimates that about 25% of people with OSA have positional OSA, which occurs primarily when they lie on their backs. In this case, "I recommend that you either sleep against a wedge pillow, or stuff a fanny pack [a small pouch on a strap, worn around the waist] and wear it at night—to keep you from lying on your back," he explains.

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