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What Is a Sleep Apnea Pillow?

Losing weight reduces the chance of developing sleep apnea.
A man using a BiPAP breathing mask and a sleep apnea pillow.
Sleep apnea pillows may help to reduce snoring.
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  • Written By: S. Sher
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2014
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A sleep apnea pillow is designed to help a person who suffers from sleep apnea get a better night's sleep. It helps prevent snoring and airway blockages that commonly wake a person during the night by providing contours that support to the head, neck and shoulders. It can be an effective tool and is relatively inexpensive. Some are advertised to reduce snoring and mild sleep apnea, while others are designed to accommodate the mask apparatus and tubes of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or a Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPap) machine used by many people who suffer from more severe forms of sleep apnea.

The effectiveness of the sleep apnea pillow usually depends on the severity of the problem. Mild sleep apnea is commonly caused by snoring; the collapsed airway that results in snoring can often be prevented by sleeping on one side or the other. Sleeping on the back may exacerbate the problem. A sleep apnea pillow for snoring forces a sleeper to lie on their side, restricting movements that may cause him to unconsciously roll on his back.

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In general, a good sleep apnea pillow restricts movement while supporting the neck and preventing the tongue from blocking the airway. It should support or cradle the head while relieving tension on the shoulders and arms. When it works correctly, the pillow keeps a sleeper on his side and helps open airways. They usually are designed with arm tunnels as well to help prevent the arms from going numb; this also helps to reduce the need to reposition during the night. There are also butterfly shaped pillows that are used to accommodate breathing apparatus of CPAP or BiPap machine, which may be prescribed by a doctor for people with more severe cases of sleep apnea. Regardless of the design, it will probably take a few nights for the sleeper to adjust to using a sleep apnea pillow.

In many cases, use of a sleep apnea pillow alone may not solve the problem and a specialist should be consulted. Sleep Apnea is a serious condition that is characterized by pauses in breath during sleep. These pauses can last a minute or longer and can happen hundreds of times during the night. Often the sleeper is not aware of the problem, but an adult will often feel fatigued and unrested, and a child may exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity. Left untreated sleep apnea can cause serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain and impotence.

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