Treatment for the most common sleep disorder, sleep apnea, can only begin after testing and a definitive diagnosis is obtained. Once the testing process is complete, the treatment option of choice for most patients is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device along with certain lifestyle changes.
To explain exactly how a CPAP device works, it is important to remember that during an apneic episode (stopping breathing for 10 to 90 seconds), the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses, blocking the airway. In order to keep the airway open all night, a CPAP device gently blows air into the airway, keeping it open. This air is delivered via a small, bedside machine attached to a mask that should be worn all night. Most machines are only slightly larger than an alarm clock and the masks are engineered to be as comfortable and maintenance-free as possible.
In addition to CPAP therapy, lifestyle changes may be recommended. These include (among many that may be recommended) weight loss, cessation of smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and sleeping on your side rather than on your back.
Secondary treatments of sleep apnea include dental devices that reposition the lower jaw and tongue or surgery to remove excess soft tissue. Studies on the effectiveness of these options are mixed, and therefore are generally only recommended after trying CPAP therapy.