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June 8, 2009

Exercises Ease Sleep Apnea

Tongue and throat exercises can reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The exercises helped increase oxygen intake.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of the nighttime sleep disorder, often results in snoring, frequent waking, and daytime sleepiness, not to mention probable frustration on the part of the sufferer. But new research from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, shows that sufferers may see as much as 40% reduction in its severity by doing a series of tongue and throat exercises designed to loosen up the muscles that surround the airway.

The experimental group showed improvements in blood oxygen saturation (indicating increased oxygen intake during sleep), snoring intensity and frequency, quality of sleep, and daytime sleepiness.

The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, followed 31 people who suffered from mild to moderate OSA, and divided them into two groups. The first performed tongue and pharyngeal exercises every day, some of which included tongue contractions, suction movements, soft palate exercises, and elevations of the right and left side mouth and jaw muscles. The control group rinsed their nasal passages with saline solution and performed deep breathing exercises. Both groups were monitored for weight and body changes, as these measures can affect OSA considerably, but neither group showed any changes in body weight or abdominal circumference over the course of the study.

While the control group showed no changes in OSA symptoms, the experimental group showed improvements in blood oxygen saturation (indicating increased oxygen intake during sleep), snoring intensity and frequency, quality of sleep, and daytime sleepiness.

"The muscles of the upper airways are extremely complex, and the mechanisms leading to OSA are far from being well understood," lead author Lorenzi−Filho said. "A strong muscle may be working on the wrong direction and not necessarily helping to open the airways. The overall set of exercises we tested target the correct physiology of the upper airway and should promote remodeling of the upper airways."

Lorenzi−Filho said that it's still not clear which of the exercises may have the greatest effect on regulating the upper airway muscle mechanisms, but future research should address this and other unanswered questions from the study.

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