Sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition that affects your overall health as well as your quality of sleep. Once your sleep test shows you have sleep apnea, it’s important to start treatment, but what new sleep apnea treatments are out there or coming soon?
Unfortunately, there are no ‘set and forget’ cures for sleep apnea and no single sleep apnea pill. The ‘gold standard’ of sleep apnea treatment is CPAP, but wearing a mask during sleep doesn’t suit everyone.
The good news is that research is continually underway to improve existing treatments and develop new ones. There are also nutritional and lifestyle changes that can make a big difference to your sleep apnea.
Let’s look at treatments that are available now as well as those that we hope to see in the near future.
Current treatment – CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)
CPAP is currently known as the ‘gold standard’ of sleep apnea treatment, which means it’s the option with the best body of evidence demonstrating success. It works by wearing a mask while you sleep that’s attached to a pump that provides gently pressurised air for you to breathe.
Because sleep apnea is usually caused by a relaxing of the throat muscles during sleep, this pressurised air works to keep the airway open. The benefits of CPAP are that it’s very safe and doesn’t require any medications. The challenges are that it can take a while to get the pressure right (this is different for everyone) and that, well, you need to sleep with a mask on.
Although CPAP reverses the effects of sleep apnea, it’s not a cure. You need to continue to use your CPAP machine to keep getting the benefits.
The technology has been around for over 40 years, when it was developed in 1980 by an Australian scientist, Dr Colin Sulllivan. Now days, there are different CPAP manufacturers and new sleep apnea machines (CPAP) are continually being developed and improved.
In terms of new CPAP sleep apnea treatments for 2022 and beyond, Australia is eagerly awaiting the new AirSense 11, with improved software, a smaller size and lower sound. It’s manufactured by Australian company ResMed and was released in the US as a new sleep apnea treatment in 2021.
Existing treatment – APAP (Automatic Positive Airway Pressure)
APAP is similar to CPAP in that pressurised air is delivered to you as you breathe via a mask connected to a pump. The difference is that APAP automatically adjusts the air pressure in response to what’s happening for you on a breath-by-breath level.
The greater complexity of APAP machines is not needed for many people with sleep apnea. However, those with more complex conditions or who aren’t able to tolerate the continuous pressure of a CPAP machine might find APAP is the best new sleep apnea machine for them.
While we’re on other variations of ‘PAP’, there’s also BiPAP (Bilevel – or two-level – Positive Airway Pressure), which changes the pressure of the air not only for when you inhale (breathe in) but also for when you exhale (breathe out). Your sleep specialist will let you know if this option might be right for you.
Existing treatment – MAD (Mandibular Advancement Devices)
Mandibular Advancement Devices (usually known as MADs) treat sleep apnea by moving your lower jaw forward by wearing what looks like a mouthguard over your teeth. Having your jaw pushed forward opens your airway, meaning that you’re less likely to snore or experience an apnea (or breathing pause).
Other names for these devices are Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS) or Mandibular Repositioning Appliances (MRA). Some sleep specialists simply refer to them as ‘Oral Appliances’.
Experts say that, overall, MADs do not work as well as CPAP but this varies on an individual level. For those not comfortable using a CPAP machine, oral appliances offer a welcome option for trying a new sleep apnea device without a mask. MADs are also recommended as a treatment for snoring that’s not severe enough to qualify as sleep apnea.
Oral appliances are fitted by a dentist rather than a doctor or sleep apnea treatment clinic. The Sleep Health Foundation notes that you can buy a device over the counter but, as these are not individualised to your mouth and jaw shape, they are often ineffective.
Existing treatment – Lifestyle changes
There are a number of lifestyle-based, non-medical changes that can have a significant positive impact on sleep apnea symptoms.
Snoring and sleep apnea can be caused or worsened by excess weight around the neck as this makes it harder for the muscles to keep the airway open during sleep. Losing weight generally (it’s not possible to just lose neck weight) can either help reduce the severity of sleep apnea or, for some people, cure it completely.
Reduced alcohol intake
You might know that alcohol is a ‘relaxant’ and that includes relaxing the throat muscles, worsening snoring and sleep apnea. Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink, especially in the evening, can have a positive effect.
Some people’s snoring and sleep apnea are worse when they sleep on their back. That’s because gravity works against the throat muscles trying to keep your airway open. Sleeping on your side can help enough that some people experience this simple change as a new cure for sleep apnea. If you find you keep rolling onto your back, you can buy a device that gives you a ‘buzz’ to remind you or you can simply sew a tennis ball into the back of your PJs!
Breathing through your nose is better than mouth breathing for reducing snoring and sleep apnea. For some people, allergies or sinus issues or the anatomy of the nose can cause sleep apnea or make it worse. Fixing the reason your nose is blocked can mean you don’t need to look out for other new treatments for sleep apnea.
New treatment for sleep apnea in 2022 and beyond – Excite OSA
It’s not just the name of this device that’s exciting! Excite OSA is a new sleep apnea treatment developed in 2020 for countries like the UK, USA, Canada and Germany. It took home the prestigious medical category award in the US Good Design Awards and we’re hoping it will be available in Australia as a new treatment for sleep apnea in 2022 and beyond soon.
Excite OSA is a new sleep apnea treatment that’s completely different in that the treatment happens during the day rather than while you’re asleep. Your tongue muscles are trained to not collapse using painless, mild electrical pulses. You use the small device for around 20 minutes a day, with positive results expected in around six weeks.
This new sleep apnea machine is best suited to those with mild sleep apnea.
Emerging treatment – Sleep nutrition
You might have heard about the connection between your brain and your gut, known as the gut-brain-axis. Sleep is one important area of our body’s function affected by your gut health. It’s most likely a two-way street, with poor sleep leading to low gut health and vice versa.
That idea introduces the possibility of new sleep treatments through changing your gut flora. Greater diversity in the microbiome in your gut has been shown to be associated with sleep efficiency and time. After all, we all know it’s difficult to sleep when something’s not quite right in your belly.
Research is still in its early days but there may be benefits in adopting a gut-friendly diet to see whether your sleep improves. Try reducing your food intake in the 2-3 hours before bed, limiting fried foods, sugar and alcohol. It’s not about going hungry – you are encouraged to eat regularly during the day and up your intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, leafy greens, wholegrains, Omega 3s, lean protein and water.
This diet is not a cure and should not stop you from starting other treatment for sleep apnea. However, as there’s no harm in helping improve your gut and overall health, sleep nutrition is a great addition to medical technology solutions for sleep apnea.
Possible future treatments for 2022 and beyond?
Is there ever going to be a magic pill as a new drug for sleep apnea? We certainly hope so!
A pharmacological cure for sleep apnea would be a welcome advance however, like all things in the science and research world, new developments take time to create and test rigorously.
Stay tuned to these articles for news of any new sleep apnea treatment in 2022 and beyond.
Sleep Apnea ‘Treatments’ to avoid
If you’re searching for a cure for sleep apnea, it can be tempting to try over the counter medications. However, not only is there no drug available to treat sleep apnea, some drugs that initially sound like they might be promising can actually make symptoms worse.
If you’ve talked about sleep issues with your doctor but not been assessed or diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may be prescribed medication like sedatives, hypnotics, benzodiazepines or even barbiturates. These might seem attractive options, however it is best to proceed with caution as, unfortunately, these medications can make sleep apnea worse rather than better.
Sleep apnea is a condition that needs to be treated. Sleep apnea sufferers are desperate for a solution and want options for a treatment that is not only effective but comfortable. We’ll keep you up to date and applaud all the scientists and researchers working to improve existing options and developing new sleep apnea treatments for 2022 and beyond.
Smith RP, Easson C, Lyle SM, et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS One. 2019;14(10):e0222394. Published 2019 Oct 7. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0222394.