Living With OSA

5 Surprising Oral Exercises to Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Did you know that exercise can help reduce sleep apnea symptoms? And when we say “exercise,” we don’t mean cardio or weights. The exercises we’ll be covering in this article are oral exercises to reduce sleep apnea symptoms by strengthening the muscles of the throat and airway.

Since sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the relaxed muscles of the airway expand and block the flow of air, strengthening those muscles may mean that they maintain more tension during sleep—helping keep your airway open.

Several studies have shown the connection between oral exercises for sleep apnea symptom reduction. The results of one study, for example, found that regular brisk walking and weight training cut the severity of participants’ sleep apnea symptoms by 25%.

Additionally, practicing yoga can teach you how to breathe from your diaphragm, which may reduce the blockages to your airway that cause sleep apnea.

But beyond regular exercise, it’s also helpful to give smaller muscles a workout — specifically, your mouth, throat, and tongue. A study released in May 2015 found that specific oropharyngeal exercises effectively reduced snoring frequency by 36%.

While the field of oropharyngeal exercises is a relatively new one, researchers have high hopes for the benefits of these exercises.

What Does Oropharyngeal Mean?

“Oropharyngeal” refers to the area of the throat at the back of the mouth. This area includes the back of your tongue, tonsils, adenoids, palatine uvula (the ball that hangs down at the entrance to your throat), and soft palate (the back part at the top of your throat).

So, an “oropharyngeal exercise” is an exercise that you do to strengthen the muscles in and around the throat.

How Can Oropharyngeal Exercises Alleviate Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

Performing oropharyngeal exercises can help tone and strengthen the muscles that are directly involved in keeping your airway open. Similar to working out other muscles in your body, different exercises target different muscles.

According to the Apnea Treatment Center, the specific mouth exercises recommended for you will depend on which area of your mouth is the weakest.

For example, if your throat muscles are collapsing during sleep, you should focus on oral exercises for your throat. If your tongue falls back into your throat when asleep, you should focus on strengthening your tongue.

Regular mouth exercises may help reduce your sleep apnea symptoms and can make CPAP machine therapy more effective, so it’s important to know what parts you need to exercise and why.

5 Best Oral Exercises for Sleep Apnea Symptoms Reduction

Exercises that work the throat, tongue, soft palate, and jaw are widely considered to be the most effective exercises for reducing sleep apnea symptoms. Here are a few to try:

1. Tiger Yell

Your throat is usually the biggest source of OSA problems, so strengthening the long, thin muscles there can certainly help. Try the “Tiger Yell”: open your mouth wide, mimicking the facial features of a tiger about to yell or roar.

With your mouth open as wide as possible, move your tongue down past your teeth as far as you can (as if you’re trying to lick your chin). The goal is to lift the uvula for 5 seconds at a time and repeat ten times.

2. Sing Loud and Proud

Singing is a great way to strengthen the muscles in your soft palate and upper throat, which tend to get weaker as you age. In one study, people with mild to moderate sleep apnea symptoms saw improvements after a 3-month program of daily singing exercises.

Start with simple vocal vowel exercises, like singing the sound of each of the vowels in an elongated monotone.

3. Tongue Slides

Studies have shown that doing daily tongue exercises can help treat sleep apnea symptoms, often caused by the tongue collapsing on the back of your throat. One of the best tongue exercises is the “tongue slide.” Push the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth (the hard palate) and slide the tongue backward. Repeat this 20 times.

4. Soft Palate Stretches:

An easy stretch for your soft palate is to open your mouth as wide as you can while saying “ah” in the back of the throat. Continue for 20 seconds. Close your mouth, wait five seconds, then repeat between five and ten times.

“Soft Palate Blowing” is another exercise in which you close your mouth and inhale gently through your nose, then press your lips together and exhale by blowing the air out from your mouth. Try to blow out air for 5 seconds and repeat ten times, three or four times daily.

5. Jaw Tension Release

A tight jaw puts pressure on your breathing passages. With your tongue in the resting position and your mouth closed, arch your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide the tip of your tongue back as far as it will go along the roof of your mouth.

Keeping your tongue in this position, slowly open your mouth until your tongue can no longer rest on the roof of your mouth. Repeat for 5 minutes, two times daily.

The relationship between exercise and sleep apnea has been proven to be a positive and hopeful one for sleep apnea sufferers. Exercising regularly (cardiovascular, resistance, as well as the oropharyngeal exercises described above) can work well alongside other treatment plans, including CPAP therapy.

As always, talk to your doctor to determine your recommended plan overall.

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12 Comments

  1. I didn’t know there are exercises to help against apnea. I will try them every day but they are not so easy. Could you please explan better by posting some pictures or short Movies?
    Thank you so much for your help

    • Hi Mara, my apologies on the delayed response. I agree that pictures, or possibly a video is a great idea! I have forwarded the request to the our Marketing department.

      Please reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, or you may e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com, for further questions, or concerns.

      Have a great day!

  2. Barbara J. Neuberger Reply

    New user and wake up feeling sleepy and can last all day, with no energy……opposite of what others report. What does this mean ?

    • Hi Barbara, i’m sorry to hear that you are experiencing feelings of sleepiness and no energy. Please keep in mind that it does take time to become acclimated with your CPAP Therapy. Also, having a good fit with your mask is key to successful therapy. If possible, please check your therapy data, to confirm if you are experiencing any mask leaks, confirm that your mask fit is good and check for the number of AHI’s you are having.

      If your data shows a high leak rate, you may need to consider a different size mask, or even a completely different mask. If you are having an average of 5, or more AHI’s, I would recommend you speaking with your doctor, as a pressure setting adjustment may be required.

      Please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221 for further assistance if needed.

      Have a great day!

  3. Bev Tiding Reply

    Thank you! Best inclusive description of these exercises I’ve seen. Have advanced normal pressure glaucoma with visual field loss and my doctor wants me to try every method besides my CPAP to control the sleep apnea. There is concern of any decrease to the eyes’ blood supply at night from external pressure to the vessels. I’ve been leery stopping it however because it seems that untreated sleep apnea is increasingly associated with the worse types of normal pressure glaucoma. Can’t take the all day headaches either if sleep apnea not treated. I am a very thin person and so think it is likely that out of shape oropharyngeal muscles could be the whole problem. Using silicone bite piece at night instead of CPAP sometimes which has helped but not as comfortable as the CPAP! In any case, the motivation to do all of these exercises regularly is there.

    • Hey Bev! I am certain that the author of the article would say, you’re welcome! I’m happy to hear that you found the article helpful and wish you great success with your CPAP therapy.

      Please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, or e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com, with any further questions, or concerns.

      Enjoy the rest of your day!

  4. Is it necessary to know which muscles you need to strengthen? Would it be okay if I wanted to strengthen all of them? Thank you!

    • Hi Barbara, it isn’t necessary to know which muscles you need to strengthen. Actually, you would most likely have more benefit if you worked to strengthen all of the muscles!

      Please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, or e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com with further questions, or concerns.

      We wish you the best!

  5. Hi,
    I am suffering with sleep apnea since so many years and it’s returned once in a month and stays for a week until I started mouth exercise so please tell me the exercise which helps me for better sleep and please provide the video for exercise.

    Thanks
    Achin
    +91-9911744415

    • Hi Achin, the recommended exercises in the article are: Tiger yell, Sing Loud and Proud, Tongue Slides, Soft Palate Stretches and Jaw Tension Release.

      Unfortunately, we don’t have a video available demonstrating each of the exercises, but that is a great idea, thank you for your feedback.

      Please feel free to reach us at: 1-800-356-5221, with further questions, or concerns.

      Have a great day!

  6. Elaine Hewitt Reply

    Has anyone done research on the effects of BPAs and chemicals in the tubing of CPAP’s? This is why I have chosen not to use one. I cannot imagine that all those chemicals are good for anybody’s lungs or anywhere else in their body.

    • Hi Elaine,
      I’m not certain what, or if any current research, has taken place, but below you will find the information we have regarding BPA.

      All CPAP masks and CPAP humidifier chambers either contain BPA or their manufacturer has not released a statement calling their products BPA free. Here is a statement released by Respironics:

      Government of Canada Takes Action on Another Chemical of Concern: Bisphenol A

      April 25th 2008

      To Whom It May Concern

      This document represents Respironics’ position regarding the use of Bisphenol A in Respironics Sleep and Home Respiratory Devices. On April 18, 2008, the Government of Canada, banned the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonate baby bottles, claiming that the exposure to BPA on newborns and infants up to 18 months of age, could potentially present a health risk to this patient group when the polycarbonate baby bottles are exposed to high temperatures.

      At this time, we are able to provide the following information to our customer: NONE of our Sleep and Home Respiratory products which are either breathable or skin contacting are intended for use with newborns or infants under 18 months of age. Therefore, Respironics is in compliance with Health Canada’s position for exposure for the identified at risk patient population.

      Although Health Canada’s restriction for BPA does not include products used for ages above 18 months at this time, Respironics is evaluating its product portfolio and will take the appropriate actions to determine and mitigate any potential risk from use of its products or potential exposure to BPA. It should be noted that NOT all polycarbonate resins contain BPA. In response to the direction provided by Health Canada’s device licensing division, Respironics will be evaluating all of our Class II and III medical devices to determine if the resins used in the manufacturer of its products contain BPA.

      Further, none of our products or accessories using polycarbonate are labeled for exposure.

      In closing, it is Respironics position that our products do not pose any increased risk of exposure to BPA for our users and thus our products remain safe for use.

      If you have any further question regarding this topic, please feel free to contact me at zita.yurko@respironics.com or at 724-387-4120.

      Regards,

      Zita Yurko Director, Regulatory Affairs Sleep and Home Respiratory Division Respironics, Inc.

      Have a great day!

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