01/26/2012 04:10 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2012

5 Tips For Battling Sleep-Disordered Breathing

Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is a common sleep disorder that typically affects both male and female adults. We spoke to Craig Schwimmer, M.D., MPH, medical director of The Snoring Center, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have sleep-disordered breathing, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Wendy Gould

According to Dr. Schwimmer, sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) describes a spectrum of conditions in which breathing is impaired during sleep. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are the two most common forms of SDB. We all know snoring when we hear it, but obstructive sleep apnea refers to a condition in which patients not only snore, but also repeatedly stop breathing while asleep.

Because snoring is the hallmark of SDB, everyone who snores is encouraged to discuss this with their doctor. Patients who snore and report subjectively poor sleep quality and/or excessive daytime sleepiness are at particular risk. Also, if your bed partner says that you choke, gasp or struggle for breath while sleeping, further evaluation is necessary.

Avoid Alcohol Close To Bedtime

Most of us already know that snoring is worse after a night of heavy drinking, but even moderate alcohol consumption close to bedtime can make things worse, says Dr. Schwimmer. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat even more than usual, so drinking within a few hours of bedtime can exacerbate SDB -- even making someone who usually "only" snores experience OSA. "I recommend that my patients limit their drinking and avoid alcohol completely for at least three hours prior to bedtime," says Dr. Schwimmer.

Lose Weight

Weight gain is a significant driver of SDB. Many people only begin snoring when they put on a few extra pounds, and weight loss can help with both snoring and OSA.

Control Heartburn

Heartburn can significantly impact both snoring and OSA, says Dr. Schwimmer. To keep heartburn under control, avoid large meals and spicy foods close to bedtime, exercise regularly and take medication as directed by your doctor.

Talk With Your Bed Partner

Historically, many people who are told they snore simply deny the problem, assuming that it's not a big deal. We now know that OSA is a serious disease and needs to be diagnosed and treated. The bed partner of a snorer loses, on average, about an hour of sleep per night. "That lost sleep, and the anger, frustration and resentment that often follow, causes countless trips to the couch, frequent arguments and has even been cited as a cause of divorce," says Dr. Schwimmer.

Talk With Your Doctor

Recent technological advances have made diagnosis and treatment easier than ever. For example, when a sleep study is indicated to differentiate between simple snoring and OSA, many patients can now use a portable monitoring device to take the sleep study at home rather than spending a night in a sleep lab. According to Dr. Schwimmer, similar less-invasive treatment options have been introduced in the past several years. "Many patients find these office-based procedures preferable to traditional treatment options," he says. "I encourage my patients to understand all of their treatment options and to select the sets of compromises that are best for them."

Craig Schwimmer, M.D., MPH, is a board-certified ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor who specializes in treating sleep disorders. He serves as the medical director of The Snoring Center, is president of the American Snoring Association and is recognized as a top doctor in the field of sleep disorders. In the past, Dr. Schwimmer has appeared on popular television shows like "Dr. Phil" and "The Doctors."

Have you ever suffered from a sleep disorder? What worked for you?