Most people believe that sleep apnea is caused by a sagging soft pallet or by some other obstructive tissue in the throat. Not so. Those things just aggravate the condition. It is caused by the diminution of the signal from the brain to the diaphragm that occurs when muscular inhibition is imposed during the transition from stage 1 to stage 2 sleep. In some people, the un-intended reduction in the signal to breathe is significant enough that the breathing stops all-together.
After a short period of time the brain realizes the need to breath and forces the subject to make a rapid inhalation. It is this aberrant rapid inhalation that literally drags the sagging soft tissues into the airway(1). This causes a snorting breath that partially arouses the sleeper while dragging them out of stage 2 sleep back to stage 1. Then, after a bit of time, the cycle repeats again when they try to enter stage 2.
You can demonstrate this with your own throat. It doesn’t close off during the day or when you lay down and are awake. Yet, if you have apnea, it becomes an obstruction problem when you start to fall asleep. It’s the rapid inhalation that drags the tissue into the airway. The tissue doesn’t just fall into the airway or it would do that during the day. Sleep state 2 reduces the muscle tonus(2), but it also reduces the signal that keeps you breathing. It is the rapid inhalation because you had stopped breathing… that sucks that tissue down and disturbs your sleep.
So the solution is to strengthen the signal that keeps the breathing going so that you don’t stop breathing in the first place. Slowing down is fine. Stopping is not. This can be done with some simple herbs that intensify the signal from the brain to the diaphragm(3), increase the gas-transfer efficiency of the lungs(4) and relax some of the skeletal muscles(5) that can be obstructive to the propagation of this signal. Lobelia, Thyme and Cramp Bark do just that.
(1) Sleep Apnea, a new approach to an emergent problem, Steven R. Frank, 1st edition Sept. 2010, KlearLabs press, Denver Colorado ppg 23-24.
(2) Understanding sleep and dreaming/ William H. Moorcroft, RC547, M667 2002, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, NY
(3) Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier, 2nd edition, 2000, Dorling Kindersley Limited, Great Britain pg. 112
(4) Nature’s Pharmacy, Your guide to healing foods, herbs, supplements & homeopathic remedies, w/AANP,Jill Stansbury, N.D. et al., 2001, Publications International, ltd, Lincolnwood IL, pp 177
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier, 2nd edition, 2000, Dorling Kindersley Limited, Great Britain pg. 150