How Does A Sleep Apnea Implant Work?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the upper airway becomes too narrow during sleep, causing breathing to stop and start repeatedly. This can lead to poor quality of sleep, daytime fatigue, and other health issues.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the gold standard treatment for OSA. This involves wearing a mask over the mouth or nose that is connected to a machine that delivers pressurized air. The pressurized air helps keep the airway open, allowing for normal breathing during sleep.

Recently, an implantable device has been developed as an alternative treatment option for OSA. This device works by stimulating the hypoglossal nerve which controls tongue movement and helps keep the airway open while sleeping. I’m Aaron, a sleep expert. Read on and we will dive into the specifics of how these devices work.

How does a sleep apnea implant work?

The sleep apnea implant has four main parts: a generator, electrodes, a breathing sensor, and a controller. The generator is implanted under the collar bone in the upper chest area and contains batteries that produce electrical signals.

These signals travel through the electrodes which are placed near the hypoglossal nerve in order to stimulate the tongue, which causes it to move slightly forward, and keep airways open during sleep. The extension wire connects the generator to the breathing sensor which is implanted near the generator. The controller allows for adjustments to be made which are:

  • Powering On and Off
  • Pausing the Stimulator
  • Increasing or Decreasing the Level of Stimulation

With this device, patients can get better quality of sleep without having to use bulky masks or machines.

Are sleep apnea implants effective?

Internal sleep apnea devices are becoming increasingly popular as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A 2015 scientific review found that these devices can be effective in reducing the severity of OSA. The first long-term clinical trial was published in 2014, which involved 126 people with OSA receiving an implanted upper airway stimulation device.

The researchers examined the safety and effectiveness of the device over 12 months and found that it significantly reduced the severity of OSA. This was determined using overnight sleep studies, self-reported sleepiness, and scales that measure the severity of sleep apnea.

There were two more studies completed in 2020 and 2021 totaling over 80 patients who received implants and overall, the treatment was effective. The results from these studies suggest that internal sleep apnea devices may be an effective treatment option for those suffering from OSA.

However, further research is needed to determine if these devices are safe and effective in the long term. Additionally, more research is needed to understand how these devices interact with other treatments such as CPAP machines or lifestyle changes like weight loss. For now, it appears that internal sleep apnea devices may be a viable option for those looking to reduce their symptoms of OSA.

Sleep Apnea Implant Surgery

Implant surgery is an ambulatory process, meaning it is executed in a clinic or hospital. It generally takes from one and a half to three hours to finish.

Usually the surgical procedure includes the following:

  1. You are administered general anesthesia.
  2. Once unconscious, your surgeon puts an incision in your left higher neck and finds the hypoglossal nerve.
  3. The stimulator cuff is put around the nerve. They then will test the the stimulator.
  4. An additional incision is done on the same side to implant the generator in the chest area
  5. Then another incision close to your ribs is made for implanting a breathing sensor.
  6. All three components are interlaced with wires by your operating physician and electrically tested to determine that it moves the tongue correctly.
  7. Lastly, all incisions are sewn up before being allowed to go home either same day or next morning.

Pros and Cons of Device Implants

The pros of this device include its convenience since it does not require any external equipment or masks and it can be adjusted remotely with a controller or smartphone app. Additionally, it is effective in reducing snoring and improving overall sleep quality.

However, there are some cons associated with this implant such as potential side effects like pain at the site of implantation and possible infection risk due to surgery required for insertion. Despite these risks, this device may be an effective treatment option for those who cannot tolerate CPAP or have not had success with other treatments.

Implants vs. CPAP

Implanted sleep apnea devices and CPAP machines are two treatments used to help people with obstructive sleep apnea. An implanted device works by stimulating the hypoglossal nerve, which is connected to your tongue. This directly moves your tongue muscles, thus opening up your airways and allowing you to breathe more easily during sleep.

In contrast, a CPAP machine uses a constant stream of pressurized air that is delivered through a mask or nasal pillows. This pressurized air helps open up your airways, but it does not directly stimulate your nerves or tongue muscles like an implanted device does.

When used regularly, CPAP machines are highly effective at treating obstructive sleep apnea. They can be adjusted to provide the right amount of pressure for each individual patient’s needs, making them a great option for those who need long-term treatment for their condition.

On the other hand, implanted devices may be more suitable for those who cannot tolerate using a CPAP machine due to discomfort or claustrophobia. However, they require surgery and have potential risks associated with them such as infection or nerve damage.

Ultimately, both treatments can be effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea and it’s important to discuss all of your options with your doctor before making a decision.

How much does a sleep apnea implant cost?

The cost of a getting a sleep apnea implant varies depending on the type of device and where it’s purchased. Generally speaking, these devices range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more with insurance. Without, a 2020 review states they cost around $30,00.

With regular use, the battery of the device will last about 11 years.

Depending on your health status or employment, you may qualify for financial aid through special programs offered by your state or health care facility. Ask your doctor or insurance provider if you qualify for any of these programs.

Additionally, you can ask your doctor if they accept payment plans as this won’t reduce the total cost but might make it easier to pay for over time.

Should you consider an implant?

This type of implant is not suitable for everyone, so it’s important to understand who should consider this option.

The best candidates for a sleep apnea implant are:

  • adults over 18 years old
  • tried other OSA treatments without success
  • unable or refuse to use a CPAP machine
  • upper airway is not blocked
  • unable to have tonsils removed

Candidates who are not suited:


Hypoglossal nerve stimulation is a relatively new treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. This involves the use of an implanted device that stimulates the hypoglossal nerve, which moves the tongue forward and improves breathing during sleep. Compared to CPAP machines, this device is more comfortable and convenient to use, but it can be expensive.

The main takeaway from hypoglossal nerve stimulation is that it can provide relief from obstructive sleep apnea without having to rely on a bulky CPAP machine. However, some people may worry about losing/operating the external remote/app or being unable to afford the cost of the device. It’s important to weigh all of these factors before deciding if this treatment option is right for you.

One of the most popular sleep apnea implant treatments right now is by Inspire.