Exercises for snoring and sleep apnea

It’s no secret that as we age we have to be more diligent about exercise to keep our muscles toned and flexible, and maintain a healthy body weight.

The same is true of the tissue inside our throats. Flabby throat muscles and fatty tissue cause snoring and sleep apnea. Poor quality sleep affects not only the patient, but anyone sleeping (or trying to) within hearing distance.

The typical solution given to most patients seeking help is the CPAP, a bulky machine that applies air pressure through a nasal mask as you sleep. It keeps the airways open so you can breathe. It’s noisy, uncomfortable, expensive and dries out your mouth and nose tissue. Still, it works.

Related story: The CPAP machine—An American success story?

An alternative is to lose weight and exercise the inner muscles of your throat, especially the tongue and palate (the oropharyngeal muscles). Some doctors recommend playing a wind instrument, such as the didgeridoo.

A recent study showed that daily exercise of these muscles for three months reduced both the frequency and the power of snoring and improved moderate sleep apnea symptoms.

Exercises involved the tongue, soft palate, and hard palate. They included elevation of the soft palate and uvula for several seconds, pushing the tip of the tongue against the hard palate while sliding the tongue backward, sucking the tongue upward against the hard palate, and pushing the back of the tongue against the floor of the mouth.

The patients involved in the study also used a Neti pot daily to clean their sinus tissues.

Although the exercises only took 8 minutes a day, the researchers admit that in the real world patients would probably not have the determination to stick with the regimen. Especially when the CPAP machine offers almost immediate relief.

But if you want an alternative to the expense and hassle of the CPAP machine—if you want to really treat the problem rather than just the symptoms—give the exercises a try.

The study didn’t include a video of the exercises, but here is a similar set I found on YouTube:

Bonus—Keeping these muscles strong also makes you less likely to choke to death while eating!

Related post: Breathing exercises to improve sleep


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Exercises for snoring and sleep apnea — 2 Comments

  1. How much would eliminating the need for a CPAP machine save the patient? Is a CPAP something that is readily covered by insurance? How long do the exercises take to work and could a patient use a CPAP in the interim? I would imagine a patient would spend almost 8 minutes a day on setting up and maintaining a CPAP machine. I love hearing about these simple fixes that are completely within our control, avoiding something as complicated as a CPAP seems like an excellent goal.

    • Hi Nathan, insurance companies, including Medicare, do pay for CPAP machines and supplies (up to a certain amount depending on the plan), as well as the required overnight sleep studies. It’s no coincidence that the number of sleep clinics has increased along with the use of CPAP machines! These studies cost around $1,000+, and sometimes 2 are needed to get the CPAP machine adjusted appropriately. So the patient’s cost depends on the size of his/her deductible.

      Cost aside, it’s also a quality of life issue. I have a friend who has used a CPAP machine–with success–for several years. But he hates it. It’s uncomfortable, it’s noisy (his wife hates it, too), it needs constant maintenance, and he finds it difficult to travel with it. He’d like to go camping, but feels stuck to this machine. He just bought a didgeridoo made of PVC pipe with a special mouth piece designed to exercise the throat muscles. I imagine it will take 6-8 weeks to notice a difference, but he is motivated and has promised to let me know how it works so I can write about it. Best, FN