Can Tongue & Throat Exercises Help Sleep Apnea?

sleep apnea and tongue exercises - surgical sleep solutions

Recently, we discussed how obstructive sleep apnea can affect your ability to exercise as well as how aerobic exercise can help control your sleep apnea. Today, we will look specifically at how simply exercising one area of the body – your throat and tongue – may help some patients improve their sleep apnea symptoms over time.

Study: The Effect Of Tongue & Throat Exercises On OSA

In 2009, the American Journal of Respritory and Critical Care Medicine published an OSA study that took a close look at whether exercising the tongue, soft palate, and lateral pharyngeal wall could be an effective treatment option for those with sleep apnea. The study, “Effects of oropharyngeal exercises on patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome,” followed 31 patients with sleep apnea over three months. Half of the patients engaged in breathing exercises (the control group) while half engaged in tongue and throat exercises.

The study found that those who engaged in the mouth and throat exercises:

  • Decreased their neck circumference.
  • Decreased their snoring frequency.
  • Decreased their snoring intensity.
  • Decreased their daytime sleepiness.
  • Improved their sleep quality.
  • Improved their overall OSA symptoms by an average of 39 percent.

It is important to note that the exercises did not affect body mass significantly and that the study’s participants suffered from moderate OSA, not severe OSA. It is also important to note that the study did not track the long-term affects of treating OSA with throat exercises.

How Throat Exercises Help Sleep Apnea

Although the study simply correlated throat exercises with improved sleep apnea symptoms, researchers believe that strengthening the throat and tongue helps build new muscles in the airway and prevents airway narrowing or collapse at night. In addition, throat exercises may decrease neck circumference, which in turn puts less weight and pressure on the airway at night.

In the study, the participants engaged in the following exercises in order to reduce their OSA symptoms:

  • Swallowing and chewing motions
  • Placing the tip of the tongue against the front of the palate and sliding it back
  • Pronouncing certain vowels quickly and continuously

One possible issue regarding engaging in throat exercises for sleep apnea is that patients must consistently and correctly do the exercises each day. Some are concerned that, much like CPAP, a large percentage of patients will not remain compliant over the long term.

Surgical Sleep Solutions For OSA

Those with severe sleep apnea, or those who are looking for a alternate treatment for their sleep apnea may wish to consider a surgical solution, such as bimaxillary advancement surgery. To learn more about this procedure, or to speak with a doctor about your OSA, contact us below.

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