Complementary Options for Sleep Apnea: Acupuncture & Yoga

As many of you know, I incorporate acupuncture and yoga into my practice when treating sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome. Of course, I don't do it myself—I refer to other trusted practitioners. Despite acupunctures' completely different paradigm of health and wellness compared with Western allopathic medicine, one thing it's great for is to realign any imbalances in your body. 


One major imbalance that occurs with sleep apnea is that you'll have too much stimulation of the sympathetic or fight-or-flight part of the involuntary nervous system, and not enough of the parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system. Not sleeping long enough or not efficiently has been shown to increase sympathetic activity. Acupuncture has been proven scientifically to bring into balance the unevenness between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.


Acupuncture won't cure your sleep apnea, but used in conjunction with standard treatment options, it can be helpful for many people. In fact, one recent study showed that it lowered the sleep apnea severity (AHI) by 50% on average. This is presumably due to its' effects on the nervous system, since neurologic dysfunction is a major component of sleep apnea.


I also routinely recommend yoga or yoga-based breathing techniques for my sleep apnea patients. It's not coincidence that by modifying your breathing patterns, you can dramatically alter your sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. A simple concept that you'll appreciate is that when you breathe in, you're activating your sympathetic nervous system, whereas when you breathe out, you're activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This is why when you take longer breathing out (such as with the relaxing breathe, singing, humming or playing a wind instrument), you'll feel more calm and relaxed.


I'm going to be talking about the importance of breathing and how it relates to chronic diseases at the Many Paths One Medicine Traditional Chinese Medicine Conference on May 15th in New York City. Hope you can join me.

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