Did you know that sleep apnea exercises can help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea? If exercising makes you want to put on your CPAP mask and go to sleep, don’t worry. We’re specifically talking about exercises for your throat and some mild cardiovascular exercises that are related to improving your breathing, such as yoga.
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.
Benefits of Sleep Apnea Exercises
There is plenty of evidence that links exercise to reductions in sleep apnea symptoms. One study, for example, found that regular cardiovascular exercise decreased the risk of exacerbated symptoms associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and ultimately led to an improved quality of life.
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. This is an area of muscle workouts called oropharyngeal exercises.
Different Types of Sleep Apnea Exercises
In the same way that you must be committed to using your CPAP therapy every night, you should also consider adding some of the following exercises, which have been proven to help with sleep apnea symptoms to your routine. Before starting any exercise regimen, consult with your doctor to plan the best course of action for you.
Cardio and Stretching
A mild cardiovascular and stretching regimen can do wonders for your sleep apnea. Stretching and walking only 30 to 40 minutes a few times a week for as little as 12 weeks can make a world of difference for your sleep apnea symptoms.
To get started, try to find the best time of the day that fits your schedule: whether it’s early in the morning, after work, or on your lunch break. Try to incorporate rest days in between to allow your muscles to rest and recover.
The Link Between Yoga and Sleep Apnea
Yoga is largely defined in Western cultures as yoga for exercise, consisting largely of a flow of different yoga positions, called asanas. Asanas are also connected to the practice of pranayama, which is a specific area of yoga that refers to the control of your breathing during and between asanas. This practice has been proven to be beneficial to alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea.
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 the soft palate (the back part at the top of your throat).
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.
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 your CPAP therapy more effective, so it’s important to know what parts you need to exercise and why.
Five Best Oral Exercises for Sleep Apnea Symptom 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:
- 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 by opening your mouth wide and 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 five seconds at a time and repeat ten times.
- 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 a 2013 study, people with mild to moderate sleep apnea symptoms saw improvements after a three-month program of daily singing exercises. More recently, a quantitative study also backed this up by noting that activities such as singing and playing wind instruments are potentially helpful for reducing the symptoms of sleep apnea, particularly mild sleep apnea. Start with simple vocal vowel exercises by singing the sound of each of the vowels in an elongated monotone.
- Tongue Slides. Studies have shown that doing daily tongue exercises can help reduce your sleep apnea symptoms that are often caused by your tongue collapsing on the back of your throat. One of the best tongue exercises is the tongue slide. Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth (the hard palate) and slide the tongue backward. Repeat this 20 times.
- 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 helpful exercise. With this sleep apnea exercise, you close your mouth and inhale gently through your nose and then press your lips together and exhale by blowing the air out from your mouth. Try to blow out air for five seconds and repeat ten times, three or four times daily.
- 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 five minutes, two times daily.
The relationship between exercise and sleep apnea has been proven to be a positive and hopeful one for those with sleep apnea. Exercising regularly (cardiovascular, yoga, and 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 to keep on your way towards your best night of sleep.
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.