Sleep Apnea Surgery

Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives to Consider

By Deirdre MundorfOct 6, 2021 5:00 AM
Sleep Apnea Surgery


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

This article contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

**The information provided in this article is not meant to take the place of medical advice from a trained physician.  Always consult with a physician before making any medical decisions, beginning treatment for a health condition, or starting a new fitness or diet regimen. 

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, approximately 22 million Americans have sleep apnea.  This condition causes a person’s breathing to become disrupted and stop and start overnight.  Individuals suffering from sleep apnea often still feel tired the next day, even after getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep.  They may also suffer from various other negative side effects such as irritability, trouble concentrating, and high blood pressure.  

Inspire for sleep apnea is a surgical treatment designed to help individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type of sleep apnea.  The device opens up the airway while you’re sleeping and helps to facilitate normal, uninterrupted breathing.  

However, sleep apnea surgery doesn’t come without risks.  Informing yourself about these risks and considering alternative, non-surgical options for milder cases can help you make the best decision for your health.  We’ll share more information below to help you learn more about sleep apnea, the benefits and risks of Inspire implantation surgery, and some potential non-surgical alternatives to consider, including choosing an adjustable bed frame.  

Sleep apnea can range from mild to severe, and can be a potentially life-threatening condition.  After reading our recommendations, you should consult with your doctor to determine the medically-appropriate course of action based upon your case’s severity.  

What is Sleep Apnea? 

Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder where a person’s breathing intermittently stops and starts back up again overnight.  Its severity can vary from one individual to the next, but in some cases, sleep apnea can be a life-threatening condition. 

There are three types of sleep apnea: 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea:  This type is the most common occurrence of sleep apnea.  The throat muscles of those with obstructive sleep apnea relax as they sleep.  As you breathe in air while sleeping, the airway closes or narrows significantly.  This condition prevents enough air from getting in and causes the level of oxygen in the blood to decrease.  As this happens, the brain picks up on the decrease of oxygen and wakes the person up from their sleep to breathe.  Because your brain wakes up for only a few seconds, many individuals don’t even remember it.  Obstructive sleep apnea may cause snorting, gasping, or choking as the body tries to get air.  In severe cases, the process of stopping and starting breathing back up may repeat 30 or more times during each hour of sleep.  

  • Central sleep apnea:  The breathing of those with central sleep apnea is also interrupted, but not for the same reasons as obstructive sleep apnea.  In individuals with this form of sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t communicate properly with the muscles and tell them to breathe during sleep.  

  • Complex sleep apnea:  Complex sleep apnea combines the properties of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.  People with this condition are partially woken up by their brains several times a night as their neural signals reinitiate breathing.  Some individuals with complex sleep apnea go through this process hundreds of times each night, resulting in a very-poor level of rest and rejuvenation.  

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, then it could be a sign that you have sleep apnea: 

  • Loud snoring 

  • Gasping for air 

  • Interruptions in breathing as you sleep (as reported by a partner or other individual) 

  • Waking up with a headache 

  • Dry mouth upon waking up 

  • Trouble staying asleep at night 

  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day) 

  • Trouble with concentrating or paying attention 

  • Being more irritable  

Having a sleep study done is the only way to receive an official diagnosis for sleep apnea.  If you have not had your condition formally assessed, then talk with your doctor about scheduling a sleep study to monitor your breathing overnight.  

What is Inspire for Sleep Apnea? 

Inspire is an FDA-approved treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.  Inspire sleep apnea surgery implants a special device under the skin that is designed to help monitor and adjust breathing overnight.  This device can eliminate the need for using a CPAP machine.  

This outpatient surgery takes approximately two hours and consists of two or three small incisions to properly implant the breathing apparatus.  The first incision is in the upper chest where the device and breathing sensor are placed.  The second incision goes under the chin, where the nerve that controls the tongue is located.  A cuff is placed on the nerve to allow the device to move the tongue out of the way as needed to foster proper breathing.  Some people may also need a third incision in their lower chest to place a second breathing sensor.  

Your device will be active one month after the surgery.  Then, you just need to click the button on the remote to turn on Inspire when you’re ready to go to sleep.  Inspire proceeds to monitor breathing overnight.  When a breath is taken, the device sends a gentle pulse which moves the tongue out of the way.  This action allows a person’s breathing to remain uninterrupted as they sleep, which results in a more restful sleep without the risk of sleep apnea or the annoyance of a loud CPAP machine.  

It is recommended to schedule a sleep study about two months after surgery to adjust the device and maximite its effectiveness for your specific breathing needs.  

Risks Of Inspire Sleep Apnea Surgery 

While there are many potential benefits associated with having an Inspire sleep apnea device implanted in your body, there are also a few risks to consider.  For example, following the surgery, you may experience swelling, pain, infection, or a temporary weakness of the tongue.  In most cases, these symptoms should clear up with in a few weeks or months.  Often, they will resolve themselves on their own, but in some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication.  

In a few rare instances, some patients may experience tongue atrophy and weakness following the surgery.  Some other possible risks of the Inspire for sleep apnea surgery include: 

  • Damage to nerves 

  • Excessive bleeding 

  • Infection 

  • Rejection of implanted materials by the body 

  • Allergic reaction to the implanted materials 

  • Pain at the implantation site 

  • Tongue discomfort from pulses 

  • Restricted movement of the tongue 

  • Trouble with speaking or swallowing 

  • Dry mouth 

  • Insomnia 

  • Fibrosis or scarring around the implantation site  

Inspire has currently only been tested on patients who have a body mass index (BMI) below 33, so it is not an option for all overweight individuals.   It is also not recommended for patients who require frequent MRIs or diathermy treatments.  

Alternatives to Sleep Apnea Surgery 

Sleep apnea surgery may be right for some individuals, but others may find that a less invasive alternative is right for them.  This can be especially true for those with milder cases of sleep apnea that may be controlled with less invasive changes.  Again, since every case of sleep apnea is different, it is always a good idea to consult with a trained physician when considering treatment options.  

Depending on the severity of your case and your doctor’s recommendations, some alternatives to having sleep apnea surgery or to using a CPAP machine include: 

  • Changing your sleep position Supine-predominant sleep apnea is responsible for approximately 62% of sleep apnea cases.  This situation refers to cases of sleep apnea that only occur when individuals are flat on their back.  If you suffer from a milder case of supine-predominant sleep apnea, then changing your sleep position (e.g., by sleeping on your side or elevating your head with an adjustable bed or sleep apnea pillow) could reduce your symptoms.  

  • Mandibular advancement devices:  Mandibular advancement devices are used to position the jaw and keep it from blocking the airway.  Unlike CPAP machines, they are quiet and simple to use, but they are typically only recommended for cases of mild obstructive sleep apnea.  

  • Tongue retaining devices:  these devices prevent the tongue from blocking the airway by keeping it forward while you sleep, which can limit cases of mild sleep apnea.  

  • Nasal Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (nEPAP):  nEPAP devices are single-use treatments that individuals place in the nostrils at night.   They are designed to deliver positive pressure to keep the upper airway open during sleep.  These devices will not completely eliminate obstructive sleep apnea, but they can limit the symptoms and may be a preferred alternative when traveling.  

  • Orofacial therapy:  This treatment is a special type of therapy for the muscles of the face and mouth.  Individuals learn how to strengthen and control the tongue, lip face, and soft palate muscles so their tongue doesn’t block their airway.  

  • Weight loss:  Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea.  Studies have shown that when individuals lose weight and increase their activity level, the severity of obstructive sleep apnea is often reduced.  While losing weight can help lessen the severity of this condition, it won’t completely eliminate it. 

  • Cutting alcohol from your diet:  Alcohol has been shown to worsen obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.  As a result, cutting it from your diet can be an effective way to reduce symptoms.  

Choosing an Adjustable Bed Frame for Mild Sleep Apnea 

As we shared above, elevating the head while sleeping can reduce the symptoms of mild sleep apnea in some individuals and may be a more desirable option than pursuing sleep apnea surgery.  Adjustable bed frames allow you to easily position yourself in an inclined position and thereby ensure your head remains more upright throughout the night.    

We researched and reviewed several of the best adjustable bed frames that can keep your head elevated overnight for easier breathing.  Many of these models offer additional features that may make them an attractive fit for your sleeping and comfort needs.  

GhostBed Adjustable Base 

The GhostBed Adjustable Base allows individuals to choose from an unlimited number of ergonomic positions to ensure a comfortable and restful night’s sleep.  Adjust the top of the frame to any position to elevate your head and keep your airway more open to reduce sleep apnea symptoms.  You can also choose from an unlimited number of foot positions for added comfort.    

In addition to its adjustability, the GhostBed Adjustable Base also offers a number of other innovative features.  These features include 15 different head and foot massage modes, LED under-bed lighting, USB charging ports, and preset positions for lounging, watching TV, and zero-gravity.  

A wireless remote is included to help you access all of the features of this bed frame and to adjust it to your desired position.  The remote also includes a memory feature to save your favorite sleeping position.  

You can pair this adjustable base with one of GhostBed’s mattresses, such as the GhostBed Classic, GhostBed Flex, GhostBed Lux, or GhostBed 3D Matrix.  It is also compatible with other mattress brands and types, so you may even be able to use it with your existing mattress.  The GhostBed Adjustable Base includes free-shipping and is protected by a limited lifetime warranty.  

The Nectar Adjustable Bed Frame 

Sleeping at an inclined position with the Nectar Adjustable Bed Frame may decrease sleep apnea symptoms and result in a more restful night’s sleep.  This adjustable base comes with a wireless remote to help you customize its position to match your exact needs and preferences.  You can program your favorite sleep position in the remote and can also use it to choose from the TV recline or zero-gravity settings.  

Nectar’s Adjustable Bed Frame also includes built-in massage modes.  Imagine using the remote to turn on one of the various 15-minute massage modes to unwind after a stressful day and to fall asleep more easily.  Two USB outlets on each side of the frame are also included for keeping your devices fully-charged and within easy reach.  

This base is designed to be quickly and easily set up.  Nectar also offers a 50-day risk-free trial for those who may not be sure whether an adjustable bed frame is right for them.  For an even more restful sleep, consider purchasing the Nectar Mattress, the Nectar Premier Mattress, or the Nectar Premier Copper Mattress with this adjustable frame.  

Puffy Adjustable Base 

Puffy’s Adjustable Base is another top option to consider when you’re looking to alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea by changing your position.   This adjustable base comes with a lifetime warranty, includes free shipping, and is designed to be easy to set up for immediate use.  

You can use the included wireless remote to independently adjust the head and foot sections of the mattress.  A pre-programmed zero-gravity setting is also included for optimal pressure relief.  You can customize the base’s height off the floor with the adjustable leg positions of 6.5, 9.5, and 11.5 inches tall.  The base also comes with a universal mount that makes it compatible with other headboards  

Some of the other notable features of this adjustable bed frame include the 3-speed head and foot massage motors, the under-bed LED lighting, and Puffy’s 101-night sleep trial.  This base is compatible with all mattress types, such as memory foam, latex, innerspring, and hybrid.  You may also consider purchasing the Puffy Mattress, Puffy Lux Hybrid Mattress, or Puffy Royal Hybrid Mattress to use with it.  

SweetNight Tranquil Adjustable Bed Frame 

Those with mild sleep apnea may find that elevating their head with the SweetNight Tranquil Adjustable Bed Frame allows for less-restricted breathing while they sleep.  The Tranquil Adjustable Bed Frame includes a wireless backlit remote.  Unlike many other adjustable bases, it also offers Bluetooth connectivity to enable users to control it using the SweetNight Base App.  The remotes offer three preset options:  zero-gravity, watching TV, and memory to save your favorite sleep position.  

This adjustable base offers more than just elevating your head or feet.  It also includes three massage modes for calming relaxation and for a more peaceful sleep.  Under-bed LED lights are integrated into the design to offer soft lighting for the middle of the night trips to the bathroom.  Dual USB ports and side pockets are included on each side to keep your devices charged and your essentials within easy reach.  

SweetNight offers a 100-night trial, a 10-year warranty, and free shipping with this adjustable base.  The frame is easy to assemble without the need for any tools.  Consider pairing this adjustable base with SweetNight’s Sunkiss Mattress, Whisper Mattress, Twilight Mattress, or Ocean Blue Mattress.  

PlushBeds Adjustable Bed Base — Relax (M555) 

The Relax Adjustable Bed Base from PlushBeds offers advanced control options using the app.  With the Malouf Base app, you can use voice commands to elevate your head to a more comfortable and less-restrictive position.  This position may help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms.  In addition to using the app or voice commands, a backlit remote control is also included with this bed frame.  

PlushBeds’ Relax Adjustable Bed Base offers a plethora of sophisticated features for comfort and convenience.  The head panel can be inclined up to 60 degrees and the foot panel can be inclined up to 45 degrees.  You can program two of your favorite custom positions on the remote or choose from the five preset positions (zero-gravity, lounging, watching TV, anti-snore, and flat).   

A few of the other key features of this adjustable bed frame include the variable-setting massage modes, USB charging ports, under-bed LED lighting, attractive linen-look upholstery, and 750-pound capacity.  

PlushBeds protects your purchase of this adjustable base with a 20-year limited warranty.  The base is compatible with any mattress type, including PlushBeds’ Ocean Mist Gel Memory Foam Mattress, Botanical Bliss Organic Latex Mattress, and Eco Bliss Hybrid Latex Mattress.  

Frequently Asked Questions  

Can you die from sleep apnea? 

Yes, sleep apnea can increase your risk of dying from cardiac arrest.  Sleep apnea decreases oxygen levels on the blood.  When the level of oxygen saturation drops below 78%, the chances of suffering from sudden cardiac death increase by 80%  

Does sleep apnea surgery work? 

Sleep apnea surgery can be an effective solution for many individuals.  However, each person’s results can vary.  It is best to talk with your doctor about the best option based on the properties and severity of your sleep apnea.  

What is Inspire for sleep apnea? 

Inspire for sleep apnea is an implantable breathing device that is turned on at bed time.  It sends pulses to move the tongue out of the way and thereby leave the airway open for uninterrupted breathing. 

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.