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CPAP not only solution for sleep apnea



Although continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are the gold standard in the management of sleep apnea, several other treatments should be considered.

“Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean everything is a nail,” Kimberly Hardin, MD, professor of clinical internal medicine at University of California, Davis, said at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.

“Sleep has been underestimated in the health arena for many, many years,” said Dr. Hardin, who likened sound sleep to the “sixth vital sign.” “We know that sleep plays an integral role in our health.”

Dr. Hardin highlighted nasal and oral mandibular advancement devices and oral appliance therapy as alternatives to CPAP. Surgical options include nasal surgery and maxillomandibular advancement surgery, also known as double-jaw surgery. Such procedures should be considered only for patients who are unwilling or unable to use CPAP or other nonsurgical treatments.

Sleep apnea occurs in 4% of adult men and 2% of adult women aged 30-60. Most commonly, obstructive sleep apnea involves the cessation or significant decrease in airflow while sleeping. The Apnea Hypopnea Index (AHI) is the number of times a patient experiences apnea or hypopnea during one night divided by the hours of sleep. Normal sleep AHI is fewer than five events per hour on average; mild sleep apnea is five to 14 events; moderate, 15-29; and severe, at least 30 events.

To identify sleep apnea, physicians have several tools at their disposal, starting with preliminary questionnaires that query patients as to whether they are having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or are tired during the day. Additional assessment tools include sleep lab testing and at-home testing.

At-home testing has come to include more than the common devices that are worn around the chest and nose for a night.

“It’s not very fun looking,” Dr. Hardin said of the weighty, obtrusive monitoring devices. “So lots of folks have come up with some new ways of doing things.”

These new options incorporate headbands, wrist and finger devices, arterial tonometry, and sleep rings.

Studies show that U.S. adults do not get enough sleep, and poor-quality sleep is as inadequate as insufficient sleep. Barely a third of adults get the minimum 7 hours recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Non-Hispanic Black adults are less likely to report sleeping 7-9 hours and are more likely to report sleeping 6 or fewer hours than are non-Hispanic White and Hispanic adults.

Dr. Hardin said doctors can advise patients to keep their bedrooms quiet, dark, and cool with no TVs or electronics, to maintain regular wake and sleep times, and to stop consuming caffeine late in the day.

Insufficient or poor sleep can have wide-ranging implications on medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, immunodeficiency, cognitive function, mental health, and, ultimately, mortality, according to Dr. Hardin.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, never mind, I can sleep when I’m dead,’ “ Dr. Hardin said. But such a mentality can have a bearing on life expectancy.

A version of this article first appeared on

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