Throat Exercises May Help Sleep Apnea

Man sleeping

Turns out making faces and sticking out your tongue might not just be for sassy kids – it might be the keys to a good night’s sleep. According to new research, if you suffer from sleep apnea treatment might just be a few tongue and jaw exercises away.

People with moderate sleep apnea experience difficulty breathing when sleeping because their upper airways get blocked while resting. Currently, the most popular treatment for sleep apnea is a machine called the CPAP which pushes air continuously into their mouth and nose to keep the airway passages open. However, the machine treats the symptoms, and not the cause, and requires using the machine every night. But recent research has found that throat exercises during the day, for some people, may help treat the cause of the problem. The ability to retrain the way a person with sleep apnea actually physically breathes could be the ticket to a snore-free nights sleep.

Patients in the study were given a series of exercises shown in this video to complete daily. The exercises are very unique and it took 8 years to refine the series, each exercise specifically targets various muscles of throat and tongue in different ways. The participants were taught various throat exercises both “isometric and isotonic exercises involving the tongue, soft palate, and lateral pharyngeal wall, including functions of suction, swallowing, chewing, breathing, and speech.”  The patients were trained on how to do these exercises with a speech pathologist. The patients were followed over a course of three months, meeting with the pathologist for 30 minutes once a week to monitor their progress.

According to the study, the patients that stuck with the exercises “had significantly decreased neck circumference, snoring symptoms, subjective sleepiness, and quality of sleep score” Furthermore the participants had a lowered their apnea-hypopnea (AHI) index score, which measures respiratory agitation, compared to the control group. Ultimately, the retraining of the upper airway muscles helped patients reduce their sleep apnea symptoms by 39%.

However, of the 39 participants who were accepted into the study, 8 dropped out due to not practicing the exercises regularly. That’s a pretty significant drop-out rate, which may mean that even though these exercises work, practicing them regularly may be a significant hurdle.

This is not the first study which has explored throat exercises to cure sleep apnea. For example, some doctors are recommending their patients try playing the didgeridoo, an australian wind instrument. Exercise and physical therapy is used to treat a variety of muscle related issues, so it’s not surprising that retraining the muscles of your upper airway could help people sleep better.

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