Did you know there are sleep apnea exercises you can do that have been confirmed in scientific studies to cure (or significantly reduce) sleep apnea?
The field of “oropharyngeal” exercises is a relatively new one – but it’s a field that holds a lot of promise for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) sufferers who are tired of dealing with CPAP or dental devices, and who don’t want to undergo surgery.
But which exercises for sleep apnea are proven to reduce OSA? Read on to learn some of the tested oropharyngeal exercises!
۞ What is "Oropharyngeal Exercise"?
Simply put, “oropharyngeal” means the area of the throat that is at the back of the mouth.
The area can consist of the tonsils, uvula (the bell-shaped ball that hangs down at the entrance to your throat), soft palate (the back part at the top of your throat), adenoids, and back of your tongue.
So, an “oropharyngeal exercise” is basically an exercise that you do to strengthen the muscles in and around the throat.
۞ How Can Oropharyngeal Exercises Help My Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Here’s why you should consider oropharyngeal exercises to reduce your obstructive sleep apnea:
With these exercises, you’re toning the muscles directly involved in keeping your airway open, including your throat, jaw, and tongue.
But which exercises you do will depend on which area of your mouth is the weakest (we explain each type of exercise in a following section):
♠ If your throat muscles are collapsing during sleep, you should do throat exercises for sleep apnea
♠ If your tongue falls back into your throat when asleep, you should focus on tongue exercises for sleep apnea
♠ If you’re a mouth breather, you should consider Buteyko breathing exercise
Keep in mind that the main aim of sleep apnea exercises is to tone and strengthen the otolaryngologic muscles (the throat, nose and mouth) as these muscles are the ones that block the air passage by becoming weak and flaccid.
Please keep in mind that like any other sleep apnea treatment, these exercises alone may not cure (or even reduce) your OSA. They should be treated as adjunct therapy to be done simultaneously with other ongoing treatments.
۞ Does Exercise Help Sleep Apnea?
Absolutely! Sleep apnea exercises have been the subject of numerous clinical studies in medical centers, organizations, and universities around the world.
Most of the studies concentrated on the benefits to sufferers when learning and practicing mouth and throat exercises.
Here are the highlights from two university medical school studies conducted in Brazil:
Study #1: Effects of Oropharyngeal Exercises on Patients with Moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome
Objective: This study concentrated on the results of practicing oropharyngeal exercises by patients with moderate OSA syndrome.
Methods: The study group took in 31 participants who were already diagnosed with moderate OSA. Two groups were formed: the controlled group did not do any oropharyngeal exercises and the therapy group did daily oropharyngeal exercises.
Several times a day, the therapy group performed repetition and holding exercises.
Results: After 3 months in the study, there was a measurable decrease in the sleep disturbances of the therapy group (the group that did daily oropharyngeal exercises), and no measurable improvement in OSA episodes within the controlled group (the group that did not do any exercises).
Study’s Conclusion: “Oropharyngeal exercises significantly reduce OSA severity and symptoms and represent a promising treatment for moderate OSA.”
Study #2: Effects of Oropharyngeal Exercises on Snoring: A Randomized Trial
Objective: This study determined the effects of oropharyngeal exercises on people who snored and had mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
Methods: The study group took in 39 participants with snoring as a main concern, but they’d also been diagnosed with mild or moderate OSA.
Two groups were formed: the controlled group did not do any oropharyngeal exercises and the therapy group did daily oropharyngeal exercises.
Results: After 3 months in the study, there was no measurable improvement in either the snoring or OSA episodes within the controlled group.
The therapy group, on the other hand, did show a measurable reduction in snoring and sleep disruptions.
Study’s Conclusion: “Oropharyngeal exercises are effective in reducing objectively measured snoring and are a possible treatment of a large population suffering from snoring”.
Without exception, the most significant result to come out of these studies was the conclusion that mouth, tongue, and throat exercises work at reducing sleep apnea episodes.
۞ Who Are Sleep Apnea Exercises For?
This is probably the best news of all! Just about everyone with OSA can benefit from these exercises.
This is true regardless of your physical abilities. If you have a mobility issue, you can sit comfortably in a chair to do some of the exercises.
The goal of each and every breathing exercise for sleep apnea is to clear, open, and strengthen your airway muscles. The method that you select to achieve your personal goal will depend on what area in your respiratory system needs attention.
You may even decide to try them all!
-- Oropharyngeal Exercises Help People Who:
1. Have OSA or snoring disorders caused by flabby throat tissue, or a large or thick tongue
2. A neck size over 16 inches
3. Breathe with your mouth open when sleeping
-- Oropharyngeal Exercises Will NOT Help These People:
1. Children under the age of 4 will need the dedicated attention of a personal physician.
2. Central sleep apnea sufferers (because the cause of their sleep apnea is neurological)
3. Individuals with nasal issues like a deviated septum, where the nasal “wall” is crooked
۞ 5 Types of Sleep Apnea Exercises (+ Sample Exercise for Each)
1. Mouth and Throat Exercises for Sleep Apnea
Mouth and throat exercises work the throat, tongue, soft palate, and jaw.
These are widely regarded as the most effective type of sleep apnea exercise. Out of the five types of exercises covered in this article, they are also the exercise type that has been studied most thoroughly by academic researchers and professionals such as speech therapists.
The following are exercise examples specifically designed for OSA problem areas. They work the four areas of the mouth and throat mentioned above.
As a sleep apnea sufferer, you’ll want all of your breathing muscles firm and toned, yet still flexible. While you may want to work diligently on one area, don’t forget about the surrounding muscles.
Neck Exercises for Sleep Apnea
● How does the neck affect obstructive sleep apnea?
Your neck is a very important part of the body when it comes to problems with sleep apnea. Your neck is comprised of the back of the throat, called the oropharynx, the lower part of the throat, which is the laryngopharynx, the epiglottis, the larynx, vocal cords, and both your trachea for breathing and your esophagus for eating.
All of these parts of the neck can either help or hinder your sleeping. If your breathing airways don’t stay open and intermittently close throughout the night, that produces the symptoms of OSA.
Your neck size can actually affect sleep apnea as well. Extra tissue places more pressure on the trachea and adds more blockage to the airways as well. That tissue can weigh more, causing the soft airway to collapse.
When you sleep on your back, gravity naturally pulls on the neck, causing the back of the throat to be more obstructed than if you were sitting upright. This explains why you can breathe properly when elevated, but struggle with apnea when prone.
● How does a strengthened neck reduce sleep apnea?
Strengthening the muscles of the neck will reduce sleep apnea by keeping them more firmly in place and keeping the trachea open at the same time. It’s similar to strengthening arm muscles to firm them up. When the muscles become softer or lag more, that’s when the risk of blocked airways can rise. Reduced oxygen flow also becomes a problem.
Tone and strengthen the muscles of the neck area, and you will see a marked improvement in your sleep apnea. These exercises are especially beneficial for people with a neck circumference over 16 inches, and for those who breathe through their open mouth when sleeping.
● How do I strengthen my neck?
Anyone with OSA can do specific toning and facial exercises to help strengthen your neck. One of the best exercises for the neck is to try singing.
This helps your larynx and vocal cords, adds more oxygen to the trachea with each breath, and can also help strengthen your throat, too. You can start with simple vocal vowel exercises, singing each of the vowels in an elongated monotone. With each exercise, make sure you can feel the vibrations in your neck and throat.
If you play a brass or wind musical instrument, that can also help strengthen the neck. Some patients have had excellent luck with the didgeridoo. Even just blowing into a simple instrument will help strengthen your neck.
One Example of a Specific Song for Sleep Apnea:
One example of a specific song for sleep apnea is sung to the tune of the song Early One Morning. You can listen to the song below.
When you do your singing exercises to this tune, you will only use the “yah” sound. Each verse is comprised of five lines, with the repetition of varying numbers of “yah”, “yah”, “yah” in each line.
Are you ready to try this? Here goes!
Now, take a rest, and then repeat the song -- singing more loudly with each repetition.
There is no right or wrong time of the day for doing the singing exercises. You should do them at the time of day or night that is most convenient for you. The important thing is to be consistent.
Are there any other health benefits to strengthening the tongue?
A 2009 study conducted by the University of Sao Paulo Medical School discovered that oropharyngeal exercises, especially those of the throat and neck, were significantly beneficial for patients with OSA.
Doing these exercises not only reduced the sleep apnea, they also improved overall sleep quality and reduced snoring. It helped reduce neck circumference, as well.
Throat Exercise for Sleep Apnea
● How does the throat affect obstructive sleep apnea?
Your throat is actually the main source of your sleep apnea problems, since it’s the open airways in the back that are being obstructed.
In the back of the throat, with your mouth open wide, you can see this section, which is called the oropharynx. It’s between the upper nasopharynx, which extends up into your nose, and the laryngopharynx, which extends down below the epiglottis and is behind the larynx.
Every time you inhale, oxygen is supposed to flow freely into your mouth and down your throat, to go into the trachea and enter your lungs. Every time you exhale, the process is reversed, with oxygen coming up the trachea and throat, then out through the mouth.
In sleep apnea, the oropharynx isn’t as open and unobstructed as it should be. So, this disrupts the entire breathing process. You’re not able to take in as much oxygen as you should. Similar to asthma, this is a breathing problem that must be addressed.
● How does a strengthened throat reduce sleep apnea?
Your throat is lined with long thin muscles, all of which can be strengthened. This will allow for better airflow to the oropharynx throat section and helps reduce sleep apnea as well.
A strengthened throat will also help support the lower jaw and the upper part of your neck. This is to ensure that the airways remain open, no matter whether you are awake or asleep. In short, the more open your airways, the more improved your sleep apnea condition will be.
● How do I strengthen my throat?
Fortunately, you are able to strengthen your throat. Similar to muscle exercises for strengthening the arms and legs, you can do specific throat exercises to open up the oropharynx area. These exercises should be used in conjunction with other exercises for the tongue and soft palate. This whole area of your face needs every part of it working together to strengthen each area and improve it as a whole.
Throat exercises might seem simple to do, but they concentrate on the area that can cause the most problems in sleep apnea. This helps improve your sleep quality. Swallowing exercises will also assist in your breathing.
Are there any other health benefits to strengthening the throat?
When you strengthen your throat, you can also inadvertently help with other issues related to this part of your body.
The action for this exercise requires you to open your mouth wide, which mimics the facial features of a tiger about to yell or roar. No noise is required, unless you want to yell. The goal is to strengthen the muscles at the back of your throat.
Tongue Exercise for Sleep Apnea
Clinical studies have shown that doing tongue exercises regularly for about 30 minutes every day can significantly reduce neck circumference, decrease snoring, and improve sleep apnea symptoms. Tongue exercises also aid in strengthening jaw muscles.
● How does the tongue affect obstructive sleep apnea?
Your tongue is a muscle, connected to the back of your throat. During the day, it rests perfectly within your mouth, towards the lower part of your jaw and inside the semicircular arc of your bottom row of teeth.
The top of the your tongue is called the apex, the back is called the body, and the bottom of it is called the root. The body of the tongue connects to the back of your throat. In an upright position, you can actually push the back of your tongue towards your throat and get an idea of how it definitely obstructs your airways, contributing to problems with sleep apnea.
In a normal sleeping position, the tongue is held gently in place towards the front of your mouth, pushed forward and not placing any pressure on the back of the throat. However, with sleep apnea, the tongue gets in the way and ends up becoming pushed too far back.
● How does a strengthened tongue reduce sleep apnea?
To prevent your tongue from getting in the way of your breathing and blocking the airways in the back of your mouth, you can strengthen it.
Your tongue is simply another muscle, like your biceps and triceps. Just like weight lifting strengthens your arms, so, too, can tongue exercises strengthen your tongue. This helps the muscle position itself better in your mouth, bring it forward, and reinforce the tissues holding it in place in the back of your mouth.
The area of your throat that you can see when you open your mouth wide is called the oropharynx. It’s this area that the tongue tends to block.
Strengthening your tongue helps you breathe better, clearing the passage for your airways and reducing the risk of blockage.
● How do I strengthen my tongue?
Now that you understand the importance of strengthening your tongue, you can do specific exercises. Just like any other kind of muscle exercise, these will help strengthen the muscular tissue within your tongue. The bottom of your tongue, its root, covers a large portion of your lower jaw. So, these exercises will also help in strengthening that area as well.
There are several tongue exercises you can do to improve sleep apnea. They are the tongue slide, tongue force exercises, the tongue press, and the tongue workout.
Are there any other health benefits to strengthening the tongue?
Yes, there are definitely other health benefits to strengthening the tongue:
* Tongue Slide
The goal here is to strengthen and tone both your throat and tongue muscles.
How to Do the “Tongue Slide” Exercise
1. Keep your head up and look straight ahead. Initially, use a mirror to see that your head is positioned correctly and look directly into your own eyes.
2. Place the tip of your tongue against the back of your upper teeth.
3. Slowly slide your tongue backward as far as it will go along the roof of your mouth.
4. Hold for a few second and then relax.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 for a total of 10 times.
Soft Palate Exercise for Sleep Apnea
The soft palate is the upper part of the back of your mouth, from which hangs the uvula (that dangly bit that hangs into your throat). It plays a role in your OSA, and you can improve your apnea by strengthening your soft palate with exercises.
● How does the soft palate affect obstructive sleep apnea?
Normally, in people without obstructive sleep apnea, the soft palate doesn’t interfere with night-time breathing at all. It is positioned high enough in the back of the throat that it doesn’t hang too low.
But, when you have sleep apnea, the soft palate can hang down too low, like a curtain, either partially or fully blocking the entrance to your throat. This results in a decrease in the ability for you to breathe properly while lying down. The soft palate can do this whether you are laying on your back, side, or stomach. It doesn’t seem to have the same affect when you’re standing up.
With a lowered soft palate, it would be like having an extra object obstructing your trachea and ability to breathe. Often, it takes a CPAP machine or even surgery to fully lift the palate.
● How does a strengthened soft palate reduce sleep apnea?
The soft palate is made of soft, muscle-like tissue that is attached to the upper back of your mouth, just below your nasal cavity. Since it hangs down, it can be strengthened in order to lift it and place it into the proper position it needs to be for better night-time breathing.
By strengthening this area of the mouth, you are also strengthening the tongue and back of the throat at the same time. All three of these areas work in tandem with each other to keep your airways unblocked for maximum oxygen inhalation and exhalation. You can definitely improve your sleep apnea by focusing on these areas.
● How do I strengthen my soft palate?
You will be able to strengthen your soft palate by doing mouth stretches. These are fairly easy to do and can be repeated between five and ten times for each cycle. If repeated often enough over a period of at least three months or more, you will definitely notice the difference.
One simple mouth stretch is to open your mouth as wide as you can, while saying “ah” in the back of the throat. Continue for 20 seconds. Close your mouth, wait five seconds, then repeat.
You can also do the soft palate blowing exercise, which is explained in detail below.
Both of these exercises will change your soft palate in a good way, by helping the tissue located there and firming it up. This will ensure it doesn’t add to blocked airways.
Are there any other health benefits to strengthening the soft palate?
The main benefit you will notice after strengthening the soft palate is reduced snoring. Snoring is not only loud and can be disruptive to sleeping partners, it has health risks associated with it, too. But with your soft palate strengthened and working properly in conjunction with the lips, teeth, tongue, and throat at night, snoring can be reduced.
A relaxed, weak, soft palate can move into your throat opening during sleep. Exercising your soft palate and uvula will elevate these muscles. Your throat will expand and your respiratory system will also benefit from soft palate exercises.
* Soft Palate Blowing
This exercise can be done in either a standing or sitting position.
How to Do the “Soft Palate Blowing” Exercise
1. Close your mouth and inhale gently through your nose.
2. Press your lips together to form a resistance and exhale by blowing the air out from your mouth. Try to maintain the blowing out action for 5 seconds.
3. Tighten your abdomen while exhaling.
4. Repeat steps 1-3 for a total of 10 times.
5. Perform these repetitions 4 times a day.
Jaw Exercise for Sleep Apnea
A tight jaw places pressure on your breathing passages. Jaw exercises help to loosen and relax the jaw muscles, and tone your tongue muscles.
* Jaw Tension Relief Exercise
Use a mirror for this exercise to ensure your jaw is moving up and down
How to Do the “Jaw Tension Relief” Exercise
1. With a closed mouth, allow your teeth to just touch.
2. Position your tongue in a resting position, with the tip laying behind the upper front teeth.
3. Arch your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
4. Slide the tip of your tongue back as far as it will go along the roof of your mouth.
5. Keep your tongue in this position and slowly open your mouth until your tongue can no longer rest on the roof of your mouth.
6. Repeat steps 1-5 for 5 minutes, 2 times a day.
2. Singing Exercises for Sleep Apnea
Though this may sound surprising, singing is one of the best ways to exercise and strengthen your throat muscles, including your vocal cords, the strongest muscle in the throat. But then, this is not like singing leisurely while taking a shower!
Singing exercises for sleep apnea involve singing some special sounds and tunes that primarily focus on the movements of the soft palate, palatopharyngeal arch, tongue and nasopharynx.
This type of workout is best for toning the lax muscles of the upper throat.
The goal of singing exercises is to tone the soft palate, tongue, and throat muscles so that they do not collapse or vibrate during sleep.
Singing exercises are fun to do. And your vocal chords will love you even if you do sing off-key - because your vocal cords don’t have ears!
Easy Singing Exercise:
1. Sit or stand in a comfortable position with your back straight.
2. Say the syllables “Ung-gah” in a singing tone. Your soft palate will move down to touch the back of the tongue on the first syllable and then move up and away on the second syllable.
3. Continue to sing these syllables energetically for a few minutes at a time, several times a day.
3. Didgeridoo for Sleep Apnea
The didgeridoo is a long, wooden instrument created by indigenous Australians more than a millennium ago.
Though simple in design, it requires some skill to play. When you learn to play the didgeridoo, using what’s called “circular breathing”, you strengthen the muscles of your upper airway.
The goal of a didgeridoo exercise routine is to dilate your airway and stiffen the airway walls, and develop muscle tone and control.
Circular Breathing Didgeridoo Exercise:
1. Sit comfortably in a chair with the didgeridoo resting on the floor between your feet.
2. Inflate your cheeks with air, then place your lips firmly around the tip of the didgeridoo so that the air remains in your mouth.
3. Inhale and exhale slowly through your nose several times until you feel the separate actions of breathing through your nose and maintaining a supply of air in your mouth. Relax.
4. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your lips into the didgeridoo while maintaining both a firm lip hold on the instrument’s tip and keeping your cheeks puffed out.
5. Continue with this circular breathing pattern throughout the exercise. This pattern is the key to playing the instrument as it allows the continuous droning sound to stay unbroken. Initially, you may only be able to make a squeaking sound.
But, with practice, you’ll blend the two motions into one circular breathing cycle that will strengthen your mouth and lung muscles.
4. Yoga for Sleep Apnea
There are two types of yoga exercises for sleep apnea: breathing exercises and exercises for weight loss. As a stress reducer, yoga improves the quality and quantity of sleep by improving your breathing.
a) Yoga breathing exercises for sleep apnea involve breathing deeply, sitting in the right posture, and gaining an increase in the oxygen levels in your blood.
This then improves your metabolism, boosts your energy levels, and helps your body release toxins.
b) If obesity or overweight is the root cause of your sleep apnea, yoga exercises (along with diet management) can help you with weight loss.
You’ll also improve several physical and emotional aspects of your life that contribute to sleep apnea disturbances.
Easy Yoga Breathing Exercise:
The goal of this exercise is to enhance your lung capacity, tone your upper airway, and alleviate throat blockages.
1. Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor, place your feet on the opposite thighs, and keep your upper body straight.
2. Relax in this position, closing your eyes, and breathing deeply through both nostrils.
3. As you inhale, contract your neck muscles and make a soft, low grunting sound.
4. Hold your breath for as long as you can.
5. Use a finger to close one of your nostrils while you exhale out of the other nostril.
6. Repeat steps 2-5 above reversing the open and closed nostrils.
7. Repeat the entire process for several minutes, 3 to 5 times a day.
5. Buteyko Breathing Technique for Sleep Apnea
The Buteyko breathing method is a dynamic and potentially beneficial exercise for all sleep disorder sufferers over the age of four.
The method was developed in Russia during the 1950s by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko and was initially intended for asthma sufferers.
The basis of the Buteyko technique is to help people with chronic hyperventilation relearn how to breathe through their noses in a manner that calms the respiratory system and produces quality sleep.
While there haven’t been any widely acknowledged clinical trials of the Buteyko method, but the Buteyko Institute of Breathing and Health, headquartered in Australia, has published a list of doctor testimonials.
This same organization published a sleep apnea and breathing retraining survey of 1100 participants, with a finding that 95 percent of apnea sufferers in the group had improved sleep.
Buteyko Nose Breathing Exercise:
If you can’t locate a Buteyko clinic or instructor, and you want to try one of the nose breathing exercises, here are a few tips:
1. Sit comfortably in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
2. Breathe in slowly and gently, no exaggerated inhales.
3. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
4. Exhale slowly and gently.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 for a period of 3 minutes.
1. As you become accustomed to this exercise, try to hold, or control pause, your breathing for more time before exhaling. When you start to feel uncomfortable, exhale slowly. This method can be used with yoga relaxation exercises.
2. Remembering to breathe through your nose is easier if you place your tongue against the roof of your mouth, with the tip of your tongue touching the back of your teeth.
۞ Your Personalized Sleep Apnea Exercise Program
The great advantage of developing and practicing a sleep apnea exercise program is its flexibility. The exercises have little or no cost, no ill side effects, and are all aimed at reducing, or eliminating, the number of your nightly OSA episodes.
With an exercise program, you have a variety of exercises to choose between and you can mix and match the techniques based on your preferences.
And remember: no matter which exercises you select, your personal program should be balanced so that you’re working to improve all of your relevant respiratory muscles.
Just like the old-time Life cereal commercial stated: Try it, you’ll like it!
To read the article related to this video please click this link: Mouth and Throat Exercises for Sleep Apnea: The World's Easiest Effective Apnea Treatment?
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