Researchers in Brazil have found that exercises reduce snoring and can benefit people with moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Like 37 million other Americans, I snore. When I tell my friends and clients that I snore and have sleep apnea, they are usually very surprised. The typical response is, “but you are not overweight.” There is a misconception that snoring and sleep apnea is caused by having excess fat around the neck area. The reality is that snoring can have several different causes, such as nasal congestion, floppy tissue around the back of the mouth and throat, enlarged tonsils, retraction of the jaw while sleeping and alcohol intake within several hours of sleeping. Snoring is not just an annoyance and interrupter of sleep for the snorer and a snorer’s partner, it is also a red flag for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA causes the sufferer to actually stop and start breathing repeatedly during a sleep cycle, which leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, arrhythmia, stroke and hypertension (high blood pressure). Prevention of snoring may be crucial for the health of anyone dealing with it, because as many as 34% of men and 19% of women who snore, also have OSA.
In my case, a CPAP machine did not work effectively for me, I get claustrophobic and I can’t handle wearing a mask all night; and I can’t afford as much as $4,000 for a custom oral appliance to keep my jaw aligned and my airways open at night. I found that I only snore when sleeping on my back, and side sleeping significantly helps reduce my snoring. The reason for this, is that snoring can be caused by your tongue falling back and obstructing airflow through the throat. This usually happens when a person is sleeping on their back and gravity, along with weak tongue and throat muscles cause the tongue to drop back and get in the way of both your throat and your good night of sleep. Because the tongue is a muscle, and the throat and jaw have many muscles that are becoming weak, the logical solution is to strengthen those muscles, rather than resorting to ineffective and/or cost prohibitive solutions. I have begun doing exercises to help lessen or even solve my snoring problem. Below, I lay out the 6 exercises that I do and highlight the four exercises that you can do anywhere, anytime and begin lessening the impact snoring is having in your life.
These exercises were studied by a group of researchers from the Sleep Laboratory at The University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The study, Effects of Oropharyngeal Exercises on Snoring: A Randomized Trial, by Dr. Vanessa Ieto, et al, was published in 2015 in the journal CHEST. In the study, participants were divided into two groups, the study group did six exercises, three times a day over the course of three months. The control group only did breathing exercises and wore a nasal dilator strip at night. The results found that on average the participants in the study group got improvements in both frequency (39% improvement) and intensity (56% improvement) of the rate of perceived snoring and improvements in sleep quality. Meanwhile, the control group in the study only had a small improvement in the participants rate of perceived snoring frequency. A very notable finding in the study, was that in participants with moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a significant improvement in apnea/hypopnea was found. In other words, those subjects were breathing better while sleeping.
First, it’s important to note that these exercises, if done properly and consistently, are likely to help most people who snore. However, like any medical treatment or exercise program, they may not help everyone; as a persons snoring could be caused by a condition that these exercises will not prevent. I also recommend that anyone who is impacted by snoring get checked by a medical professional, to ensure that they do not have sleep apnea and to discuss all other options with a doctor.
The exercises below are very simple to perform and the first four can easily be done while sitting in your car or on your couch.
- Pushing the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth and sliding the tongue backward. Do this 20 times, 3 times per day.
- Suck the tongue upward against the roof of the mouth, and press the entire tongue against the roof of the mouth. Do this 20 times, 3 times per day.
- Force the back of the tongue against the floor of the mouth while keeping the tip of the tongue in contact with the bottom, front teeth. Do this 20 times, 3 times per day.
- Elevate the back of the roof of the mouth and uvula while saying the vowel 'A'. The uvula is the tissue that hangs from the rear portion of the roof of your mouth. Do this 20 times, 3 times per day.
- Put a finger in your mouth on each side and press outward, while resisting your thumb by trying to holding your cheek in with your cheek muscles. Do this 10 times, 3 times per day.
- Alternate chewing on either side of the mouth when you eat.
These exercises will strengthen your tongue, and various throat and facial muscles that contribute to the positioning of your tongue and the opening of your airways. Treat them like any other important exercises that you would do in the gym, do them three times a day. I find that it takes me a total of just 9 minutes a day to do the first five exercises on the list, three separate times. The sixth exercise, chewing on both sides of the mouth, doesn’t take any additional time at all. In order to make it easy to include these exercises into my daily routine, I do the first four exercises while driving or while I sit on the couch to watch television. Then I spend a couple minutes each night doing a single set of 30 repetitions of the fifth exercise (finger against the inner cheek), to make up for not doing it in the car or on the couch. I noticed a slight improvement in my snoring the first night that I did these exercises. It will not cure you from snoring on day 1, but over the course of weeks or months, it is likely to make a significant reduction in snoring and significant improvement in your sleep quality.
This blog was written by Ken Taylor, Personal Trainer at Body Kinetics Novato.
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