Don’t wait till it’s too late

Couch potatoes or not, we’re all fairly well acquainted with the benefits of exercise when it comes to weight loss and cardiovascular health – but snoring?

According to SnoreMeds, various studies have, of late, suggested that exercises aimed at strengthening the throat and neck muscles as well as improving breathing, could well make a difference. Admittedly, these do stretch from the sublime to the ridiculous but, when push comes to shove and your partner is trying to get some shut eye, both short and longer term solutions are the way to go. The American National Sleep Foundation’s explanation of exactly what happens during sleep shows exactly why a little airway aerobics might be of help. “While you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax, your tongue falls backward and your throat becomes narrow and floppy. As you breathe, the walls of the throat begin to vibrate - generally when you breathe in but also, to a lesser extent, when you breathe out.

These vibrations lead to the characteristic sound of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring. Sometimes the walls of the throat collapse completely so that it is completely occluded, creating a condition called apnoea (cessation of breathing). This is a serious condition which requires medical attention.

”The first indication that mouth and throat exercises might help came from Down Under when it was suggested that playing the didgeridoo stopped snoring. There’s no evidence that Australian snorers are any less vocal than their international counterparts at this stage. However, a number of researchers have noted that playing wind instruments such as the didgeridoo, oboe, bassoon and even the lowly recorder could help strengthen the throat, mouth and soft palate, reducing snoring.

A study presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies annual sleep meeting in June 2009 in Seattle by Dr. Christopher P. Ward suggested a strong chance that musicians who play double-reed woodwind instruments--oboes, bassoons and English horns—had have a lower risk of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) than musicians playing other instruments.

However, when it came to the first published article on the possible effect of playing a wind instrument, the didgeridoo took centre stage. A Swiss study by Milo A. Puhan was published by the British Medical Journal in December 2005. 14 out of 25 patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnoea (apnoea-hypopnea indexes between 15 and 30) were given foot long plastic didgeridoos, four lessons on the instrument spaced over an eight-week period, and instructed to practice at least 20 minutes a day for five days a week.

The benefit of didgeridoo playing is believed to stem from ‘circular breathing’ when the player inhales through the nose while maintaining an uninterrupted outflow into the instrument through the mouth, using the cheeks as bellows.

This produces a continuous note sustained far longer than would be possible with a single breath. After four months, researchers found that didgeridoo players' apnoea-hypopnea index had dropped from an average of 21 to 11.6. 
The only problem, however, is whether moving from the heavy bass of snoring to the drone of the didgeridoo – not to mention learning how to play - is any better than snoring in the first place!

On a slightly different note, according to other researchers, a little crooning could relieve snoring. This doesn’t mean singing lullabies to long suffering sleep partners but hitting the high notes. They suggest singing out loud to your favourite CD – anything from the Bee Gees to Justin Bieber – or actually buying a CD that has been specifically created for the purpose. Again, there is no guarantee that these oral operatics are going to work for every snoring soprano or resonate with a sleep starved audience.

Another recent report by speech pathologist Katia C. Guimaraes published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in 2009 suggested a little Pilates for the palate or a workout for the windpipe might provide some relief. The exercises used for 16 moderate OSA patients were originally used for speech therapy but also resulted in significant decreases in neck circumference, snoring, daytime sleepiness, and apnoea over three months. 
Dr. Catriona M. Steele of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute took another look. Although she questioned whether tongue brushing, chewing or sliding the tongue along the roof of the mouth had any effect, she did admit that inflating a balloon five successive times while inhaling through the nose and repeatedly pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth might indeed, over time, lead to a remodelling of the upper airway.

At this point, various sleep bodies worldwide are encouraging snorers to:

  • Strengthen the Neck: Open and close your mouth whilst touching your lips. Pucker up for 10 seconds and then smile as widely as possible for another 10 seconds. Then close your mouth, pressing your lips together.
  • Toughen up the tongue: Stick out your tongue as far as you can, moving from side to side. Do this 20 times a day for one month.
  • Workout the Jaw: Extend bottom jaw so that it is further than you upper jaw and hold this for 10 second. Repeat 10 times a day.
  • Build up your breathing: Blocked nasal passages can result in snoring due to a build up of excess fluid in throat tissues. Train your body by breathing deeply through your nose throughout the day to alleviate the throat spasms and breathing arrhythmia that trigger nasal snoring at night. Try alternate nostril breathing - close off your right nostril, inhale deeply through your left nostril. Close off your left nostril, release your right nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Repeat 10 times.

Most importantly of all, though, exercise your whole body regularly and eat healthily to ensure that you are not overweight. It is medically proven that excess weight can either lead to or exacerbate snoring as fatty tissue around the neck can obstruct the airway. 
The only problem is that building up your fitness takes time, learning to play the didgeridoo or any other wind instrument for that matter, even longer and PT for the neck, jaw and tongue another longer term antidote.

If you are looking for an immediate solution, choose the off the counter remedy – a SnoreMeds mouthpiece. This works by gently moving the lower jaw forward, opening the throat and keeping the airway unobstructed. Made from hyper allergenic plastic, SnoreMeds mouth pieces mold to the mouth, allowing the wearer to swallow and breathe normally whilst enjoying a good night’s sleep.