We’ve all heard the jokes about snoring husbands and the long-suffering wives forced to share a bed with them.
But if you (or your loved one) has sleep apnea, you know it’s no joke. And if you’re forced to use the dreaded CPAP? Even less funny.
Fortunately, there’s a new, fun way to treat sleep apnea which doesn’t involve horrible equipment or surgery.
This natural treatment for sleep apnea has gained credibility over the last five to ten years and, now, playing the didgeridoo for sleep apnea comes highly recommended by a diverse range of medical experts and specialists.
The word ‘apnea’ is derived from the Greek for ‘want of breath’ and it describes a disorder which either reduces breathing capacity or stops breathing altogether while sleeping.
While ‘sleep apnea’ can be characterized by a range of seemingly harmless symptoms (like snoring), this simple phrase hides a sinister secret.
These cessations of breath can last for anything between 10-30 seconds and occur hundreds of times during a single sleep cycle.
They can lead to chronic fatigue, hypertension, heart disease, and mood and memory problems, among other things. So, how does a didgeridoo help sleep apnea?
The Amazing Link between Sleep Apnea and the Didgeridoo
While there are many ways to treat sleep apnea (prescription medication, assisted breathing apparatus, lifestyle changes, etc.), there is one method which is highly underrated.
It might sound strange, but learning to play the didgeridoo is a widely recommended way to reduce the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
This is because playing the didgeridoo strengthens the upper airway muscles and makes them much less likely to collapse and interrupt breathing during sleep.
For sufferers who are tired of relying on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines, the didgeridoo can offer an alternative long term solution.
This guide to everything that you need to know about the amazing link between sleep apnea and the didgeridoo will help you learn how to show sleep apnea the door for good.
It is worth taking the time to digest, because you can live a life free from this condition.
Getting to Grips with the History of the Didgeridoo
So, first things first, what exactly is a didgeridoo? Well, according to archaeologists, it is a double reed wind instrument which can be dated back at least 1,000 years. It was invented by the Aborigines of Australia and it is usually made out of a hardwood like bamboo or eucalyptus.
The typical didgeridoo is around 3-5 feet in length, with most being around 4 foot long. This musical instrument is conical or cylindrical in shape and often has a beeswax mouthpiece, in order to provide a superior seal for playing.
While more modern didgeridoos can be made out of a broad variety of different materials (including plastic), it is the traditional wooden version which most people imagine when they hear the word. To play the didgeridoo, there needs to be a constant vibration of the lips.
This produces a drone like noise which is combined with circular breathing to create a rich and unique sound. The player inhales through the nose, while also blowing into the instrument through the mouthpiece, with the cheeks working like miniature bellows.
The circular breathing technique allows didgeridoo players to maintain continuous notes. It also means that a person has to take control of the upper airway muscles. The more regularly the didgeridoo is played, the stronger these muscles become, and the less likely they are to collapse – as occurs during sleep apnea.
Using the Didgeridoo to Help Control Sleep Apnea
The key to understanding how the didgeridoo can help control sleep apnea lies with the muscles which regulate breathing. In sleep apnea sufferers, these muscles are weak and give in to pressure more easily than in healthy sleepers. While some level of flexibility is normal, the airways should never be obstructed.
In 2006, research conducted by the British Medical Journal showed ‘a moderate to large change’ in 25 sleep apnea patients who had been given weekly didgeridoo lessons. The results were recorded after just 25 minutes of personal practice.
Plus, a number of studies have now suggested that musicians who play wind instruments are significantly less prone to sleep apnea than musicians who play any other type of instrument (see this study and this study for details). This lends credibility to the theory that wind instruments can help to bolster and regulate healthy breathing.
It is believed that, by learning how to control the upper airway muscles, the healthy rhythm of stiffening and dilation during sleep is also improved. For the 25 participants in the study, the outcome was a life changing revelation and most continued playing the didgeridoo for sleep apnea long after the research had been completed.
The Difference between Playing the Didgeridoo and “Didgeridoo Therapy”
There are some holistic healers who believe that the didgeridoo can also be used as an external cure for sleep apnea. They harness the deep vibrations produced by the instrument as a kind of ultrasound therapy. The player positions the didgeridoo close to the patient and plays as a form of indirect sound therapy.
The holistic practice is also commonly used as a way to alleviate pain in patients with chronic bone disorders, like arthritis. However, it is important to note that the impact of this kind of didgeridoo therapy has not been as widely studied as the effects of learning to play the instrument itself.
It is not recommended as an exclusive treatment for anybody suffering with moderate to severe sleep apnea. If you have been diagnosed with a clinical sleep disorder, it is very important that you consult with your doctor before deciding upon an appropriate treatment.
Shopping for a Didgeridoo Which Can Help Cure Sleep Apnea
If you are interested in learning to play the didgeridoo, the first step is finding the right instrument. There are two choices; an authentic Aboriginal didgeridoo from Australia or a modern instrument. There is no known difference between the two, as regards the ability to regulate, control, or cure sleep apnea.
Unless you are looking to purchase an authentic Aboriginal didgeridoo (which can only be found from specialist suppliers), you should find that most modern music stores stock the instrument – however, you may have to order it online.
The choice of color, design, size, and material will depend entirely on your own preferences. You can, of course, make your own bamboo didgeridoo, if you want to learn how to master an instrument which is completely unique and personal to you.
The process is easier than you might think, as it requires only a suitable length of bamboo (approx. 5-6 feet), a small amount of beeswax, and a handsaw. This comprehensive guide to creating your own bamboo didgeridoo should help you get to grips with the basics and create the best didgeridoo for sleep apnea.
Getting Started As a Brand New Didgeridoo Player
For the didgeridoo to have a positive impact on sleep apnea, it needs to be played correctly. Yet, it is important to understand that this instrument is one which rewards patience. You will not become an expert overnight – the circular breathing techniques needed to produce clear and rich sounds take work to master.
It is these breathing exercises, however, which hold the key to alleviating the symptoms of sleep apnea, so it is vital that you stay focused, practice as often as possible, and most importantly, have fun. You should start to see a marked improvement in the quality of your sleep after a few months of regular playing.
The good news is that there is currently a didgeridoo revival underway. The instrument has been undergoing a bit of a surge in popularity, so the number of instructors has soared. This means that it should be easy to find a qualified teacher in most major cities.
If you cannot find a suitable instructor, or you would rather learn independently, you can, of course, teach yourself. To do this, you will either have to pick up an instructional book on learning the didgeridoo or use a platform like YouTube to locate instructional videos.
There are plenty of comprehensive online programs available on the internet, so you could think about paying for a full lesson plan. These packages usually come with lots of extra breathing exercises and suggested training and practice cycles.
Tips and Tricks for Becoming Master of Your Instrument
The first step is to learn how to make the basic drone sound. This is created by vibrating the lips and blowing into the instrument. It can be tricky to get right and if you find that you are making a buzzing noise, you need to blow softer. The general rule of thumb is to exhale at the same force as if you were speaking.
If you hear a lot of squeaking, you could be pressing your lips together too firmly – playing a didgeridoo is not like playing a trumpet; you do not have to purse hard. You need to relax your whole face, keep your cheeks loose as they fill up with air, and actually feel your lips sag into the didgeridoo.
With practice, you will be playing like a pro in no time. To practice your circular breathing, use this handy trick. While showering, fill your mouth with water, so that your cheeks are fit to burst. Now, softly squeeze your cheeks and lift your jaw, until the water starts to stream out gradually, in a continuous flow.
The aim is to be able to regulate your breathing so that you can inhale and exhale without interrupting the flow of water. Once you are used to this kind of circular breathing exercise, you might want to lose the water and perform it with an empty mouth.
However, the use of water is valuable for beginners, because it acts as a clear visual indication of whether or not you are inhaling and exhaling air in the correct manner – circular breathing is essential if you want to become a great musician.
Finding Out If Didgeridoo Therapy is Right for You
There is only so much that medical journals can say about the impact of didgeridoo playing on sleep apnea. To find out how the instrument can change your life and improve your health and quality of sleep, you need to pick one up and give it a try.
While the cost of a didgeridoo does depend on a variety of factors (authenticity, materials, size, etc.), generally speaking, they are not very costly and are easy to source. If you would like to live a life free from prescription medications and CPAP equipment, you need to find a long term solution.
The didgeridoo is a fun, quirky, and interesting way to approach sleep apnea and other sleep disorders like it. The first step is making the decision to jump into this new skill wholeheartedly, so follow the advice laid out in this guide and make it with confidence today.
References & Resources:
- Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomised controlled trial