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 obstructive sleep apnea. They should be treated as adjunct therapy to be done simultaneously with other ongoing treatments.
Does Oropharyngeal 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.”
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 :
- Have OSA or snoring disorders caused by flabby throat tissue, or a large or thick tongue
- A neck size over 16 inches
- Breathe with your mouth open when sleeping
Types of Sleep Apnea Exercises
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.
Throat Exercise for Sleep Apnea
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.
Here is how to do the “Tiger Yell” Exercise :
- Stand in front of a mirror.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can and stick out your tongue as far as you can, in a downward position as if you are trying to lick your chin.
- The uvula, that small bell shaped piece of tissue at the back of your mouth, needs to lift upwards when your tongue is stuck out.
- The mirror helps to ensure that the uvula is actually moving upwards. In no time at all, you’ll feel when it’s lifted up and you won’t need a mirror.
- Hold the lifted uvula position for 5 seconds and then relax.
- Repeat steps 2-4 for a total of 10 times.
Tongue Exercises 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.
The goal here is to strengthen and tone both your throat and tongue muscles. How to do the “Tongue Slide” exercise :
- 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.
- Place the tip of your tongue against the back of your upper teeth.
- Slowly slide your tongue backward as far as it will go along the roof of your mouth.
- Hold for a few second and then relax.
- Repeat steps 1-4 for a total of 10 times.
Soft Palate Exercise for Sleep Apnea
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 :
- Close your mouth and inhale gently through your nose.
- 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.
- Tighten your abdomen while exhaling.
- Repeat steps 1-3 for a total of 10 times.
- 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 :
- With a closed mouth, allow your teeth to just touch.
- Position your tongue in a resting position, with the tip laying behind the upper front teeth.
- Arch your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
- Slide the tip of your tongue back as far as it will go along the roof of your mouth.
- Keep your tongue in this position and slowly open your mouth until your tongue can no longer rest on the roof of your mouth.
- Repeat steps 1-5 for 5 minutes, 2 times a day.
Singing Exercises for Sleep Apnea
hough 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!
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 :
- Sit or stand in a comfortable position with your back straight.
- 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.
- Continue to sing these syllables energetically for a few minutes at a time, several times a day.
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 :
- Sit comfortably in a chair with the didgeridoo resting on the floor between your feet.
- Inflate your cheeks with air, then place your lips firmly around the tip of the didgeridoo so that the air remains in your mouth.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor, place your feet on the opposite thighs, and keep your upper body straight.
- Relax in this position, closing your eyes, and breathing deeply through both nostrils.
- As you inhale, contract your neck muscles and make a soft, low grunting sound.
- Hold your breath for as long as you can.
- Use a finger to close one of your nostrils while you exhale out of the other nostril.
- Repeat steps 2-5 above reversing the open and closed nostrils.
- Repeat the entire process for several minutes, 3 to 5 times a day.
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:
- Sit comfortably in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
- Breathe in slowly and gently, no exaggerated inhales.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds.
- Exhale slowly and gently.
- 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.