Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by brief, repeated breathing pauses during sleep. More than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Managing it is important, since it increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, mood and memory problems and car accidents. In severe cases, sleep apnea becomes life-threatening. For best results, discuss your symptoms and wellness goals with your doctor before making significant dietary changes.
Altering your diet may help improve symptoms of sleep apnea. Weight loss is important if you're overweight and have sleep apnea -- a common combination, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Healthy dietary changes that lead to weight loss can reduce snoring and breathing pauses and, in some cases, resolves symptoms entirely. Consuming appropriate amounts of nutritious foods may also improve the quality of your sleep and minimize daytime sleepiness.
For improved wellness, weight and sleep, your diet should provide sufficient amounts of nutrients, fiber and calories. The main goal in most cases of sleep apnea dietary treatment involves reducing your overall caloric intake, according to "Sleep Apnea and Snoring: Surgical and Non-Surgical Therapy" by Michael Friedman. To do this, replace calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods, such as candy, potato chips and fatty meats, with lower-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. Friedman considers increased physical activity an important aspect of dietary changes -- the more food you eat, the more activity you should engage in. Choose primarily whole, natural foods and limit processed snack foods and foods and beverages high in added sugars. Avoid caffeine and large meals for several hours before bedtime, since they may interfere with your ability to sleep soundly.
A healthy diet that supports weight management may reduce sleep apnea symptoms, though results vary. For a study published in the "Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine" in October 2009, 10 adults with sleep apnea consumed a calorie-restricted diet for 16 weeks. Weight loss among participants was significant after the controlled diet. Six of the 10 participants exhibited fewer disordered breathing symptoms during the night and snoring improved in most of the participants. Half of the participants maintained their weight loss 12 months later. Factors that may contribute to the effectiveness of your diet include the amount of weight you carry, how closely you follow your dietary guidelines and whether you take additional steps toward managing your symptoms, such as stopping smoking and sleeping in a more upright position.
When choosing a diet plan, avoid fad diets and those that enforce rigid rules, such as eliminating entire nutrient groups or severely restricting calories, fat or carbohydrates. These plans often fail to provide long-term weight loss, according to the Weight-control Information Network, and can pose numerous risks. Losing weight too rapidly, or more than 1 to 2 lbs. after the first several weeks, may increase your risk for gallstones and heart problems. Aim instead for a nutritious, balanced diet that allows for modest indulgences and incorporate healthy foods from all food groups, including complex carbohydrates, lean protein sources and healthy fats. For best results, seek specified guidance from a medical or dietary professional well-versed in sleep apnea.