Sleep Apnea Management: Here's How Tweaking Your Diet Can Help

Try these anti-inflammatory foods to help manage sleep apnea.

5 min read

When asked, ‘Are you sleeping every night? ’You’d most probably say ‘Yes’. But when the question is rephrased to ‘are you satisfied with your sleep?’. Your answer will probably change to ‘No’.

Unfortunately, sleep is the first casualty when time gets squeezed due to increased stresses and work pressures.

Now, a lack of sleep should not to be taken lightly as it impacts the over-all quality of life and productivity drastically.

Each night you sleep badly, your efficiency next day is affected and in the long run it may also lead to multiple serious health issues.


Well, sleeplessness or insomnia is a major lifestyle disorder today. We all know that.

But, the real problem arises when the cause for disturbed sleep goes beyond just lifestyle issues.

What most people don’t know is that there are more than 70 types of sleep disorders.

These range from excessive sleepiness during the day, poor sleep at night (not feeling fresh after waking) and abnormal behaviour (sleep talking, sleep walking, violent acts, etc) at night.

At times lack of sleep and snoring could signal a more serious condition such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition leading to the repeated cessation of breathing during sleep and which can potentially lead to heart disease,

What is OSA?

Try these anti-inflammatory foods to help manage sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a common respiratory condition.

(Photo: iStock)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) impacts one in five adult males, and is the second most diagnosed respiratory condition after asthma is a grow-ing lifestyle disorder which results when the upper airway is blocked, causing airflow and breathing to stop for a time during sleep.

It impacts the way one breathes when sleeping, and in untreated sleep apnea breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep.

These breathing pauses typically last between 10 and 20 seconds and can occur up to hundreds of times a night, jolting one out of their natural sleep rhythm.

Those who have it may snore, wake repeatedly, and never get a proper full night's sleep. Sometimes a common tell tale sign is severe acidity too.

This chronic sleep deprivation results in daytime sleepiness, slow re-flexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents.

But this is not all, the damage goes even further as OSA is a risk factor for and even a possible cause of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain.

All this adds urgency to treat and if possible prevent what until recently was viewed as just a quality of life problem.

Treat It Right

Sleep Apnea, if not critical, can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or changing sleep positions.

However, If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, and in critical cases, where complications develop with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks, it may need medical intervention.

The Food Steps: Sleeper Foods

Try these anti-inflammatory foods to help manage sleep apnea.

Sleeper foods include a variety of fruits and vegetables.

While there’s not much evidence that foods can directly help sleep apnea, some foods can definitely help promote healthy sleep and can be complementary to sleep apnea treatment.

These are called sleeper foods. Eating foods with sleep-promoting compounds melatonin and tryptophan regularly can help, specially at bedtime.

Melatonin rich foods are fruits like cherries, pomegranate, grapes, vegetables like corn, asparagus, broccoli, cucumber, grains like rice, barley, oats and nuts and seeds.

Tryptophan rich foods are dairy, fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, avocado, vegetables like spinach, broccoli, onions, legumes, chicken, seafood, nuts and seeds.

Calcium rich foods (dairy, sesame seeds, figs) also help the body make melatonin from tryptophan.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Those with sleep apnea usually have upper airway and systemic inflammation, so following an anti-inflammatory diet can help keep their airway open.

That is why a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean protein and healthful fats helps.


Garlic, honey, ginger, and turmeric are common anti-inflammatory foods. Omega-3 fatty acids also helps the body produce melatonin, which is a natural sleep enhancer.

Try these anti-inflammatory foods to help manage sleep apnea.

Nuts, salmon fish, avocado are all rich in Omega-3.

(Photo: iStock)

  • Lose extra weight

Eating high fibre foods help, as sleep apnea and obesity have a direct relationship.

That is why fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with fibre are a good option as they keep you full for longer and prevent overeating.

Besides, many fruits and vegetables contain melatonin, which is a natural sleep enhancer.

Asparagus, corn, cherries, grapes, broccoli, and cucumbers are all good options.

Avoid These

Our oral cavity has a direct role in the cause of sleep apnea so avoid-ing too many sugary treats helps keep the oral hygiene in green.

Secondly, all mucous producing foods need to be skipped. These may differ for different people, but while most fruits are great for improving sleep apnea symptoms, bananas are known to increase mucus production in some people.

Mucous can make breathing problems worse while you sleep and exacerbate sleep apnea.

In some people, dairy products with a high fat content can also increase the body’s mucus production, so be careful.

Since sleep apnea and obesity have a direct relationship, so it helps to stay as near the optimum weigh as possible.

Even a 10 percent loss in body weight can promote a 30 percent-50 percent reduction in sleep apnea severity.

That is why food that’s good for weight loss is good for sleep apnea too.


Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins promote sleep, and avoiding highly calorific important to stay as near the optimum weight as possible.

For the same reason, refined carbs need to avoid.

Foods that are high in saturated fats (meat steaks, pork, bacon, lamb, sausages etc) need to avoided as they can increase inflammation in the body, which can lead to cardiovascular issues. This is a big risk factor if you have sleep apnea.

Try these anti-inflammatory foods to help manage sleep apnea.

Refined carbs and spicy food can cause and perpetuate heart burn.

(Photo: iStock)

Rich and spicy foods may induce heartburn and can worsen the acid reflux, leading to more breathing trouble.

Drinking alcohol may help one fall asleep, but it derails the quality of sleep and increase risk for airway blockage.

Similarly, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. So stop caffeine six hours off bedtime.

Finally, processed foods and trans fats need to be avoided militantly too as they can aggravate sleep apnea.

Exercise Matters

Snoring signals the lack of oxygen in our bodies. Exercise helps in-crease the blood flow and brings more oxygen to our organs. To keep apnea in check, regular exercise is very important.

(Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, weight management consultant, and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of The Don't Diet Plan: A no-nonsense guide to weight loss, Fix it with Food, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks, and Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People.)

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