10 Exercises for Sleep Apnea: Tongue, Jaw and Throat

Sleep apnea is often treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy (CPAP), which involves the nightly use of a machine that keeps the airways open so they don’t collapse while you sleep. 

However, CPAP isn’t the only way of treating this condition. Studies have shown that certain exercises that target the upper airways can reduce symptoms, especially in patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea. This makes sense, considering that low muscle tone in the airways and poor tongue positioning are some of the main causes of this condition.

To help with this, we’ve put together a list of sleep apnea exercises you can try at home to reduce snoring and other sleep apnea symptoms. Let’s start with some tongue exercises, which have been created to develop tongue strength.

  1. The stretch

Look up at the ceiling and stick your tongue out and down as far as you can, as if you were trying to touch your chin with your tongue. Hold the position for 10 seconds to start with, and gradually increase the duration. Repeat 4 or 5 times.

  1. The slide

With your mouth closed, bring the tip of your tongue to the back of your top front teeth, and slide it back along the roof of the mouth. At the start, repeat 5 times, and gradually increase repetitions to 20 times.

Some tongue exercises also work to strengthen the soft palate. Here are a couple of them.

  1. Push up / Push down

First, push your tongue against the roof of the mouth, and hold it for 10 seconds. Then, push the tip of the tongue against your lower front teeth, and hold for another 10 seconds.

Repeat each exercise 5 times to start with, and increase the number of repeats over time.

  1. Say “A”

This palate strengthening exercise consists of pronouncing the vowel “a” for at least 5 seconds, while keeping your tongue down. You may want to check the tongue position in the mirror, since sleep apnea sufferers tend to let their tongue move up, which defeats the point of the exercise.

Repeat the exercise 10 times.

Next, we’ll look at some useful throat exercises.

  1. Roar like a tiger

This exercise has you mimic the facial expression of a tiger that is about to roar (you don’t actually need to roar). Open your mouth as wide as you can and push your tongue out and down, keeping it in this position for about 5 seconds. 

While you do this, it’s important to check that the uvula (the small bell-shaped flesh that hangs at the back of the throat) moves up. Check in the mirror if necessary.

Repeat the exercise 10 times. 

  1. Looking up

Look up to the ceiling and while keeping your head in this position, stick your tongue out and up. Hold it in this position for 10 seconds to start with, and repeat the exercise 5 times.

This exercise stretches and builds strength in throat, trachea, and neck.

  1. Cheek resistance

This exercise can be useful to people who breathe through their mouth, which is common in obstructive sleep apnea patients. 

With your mouth open, introduce your index finger and push it against the inside of your cheek. At the same time, push the cheek muscles against the finger, as if you were trying to push it in the opposite direction.

Repeat the exercise 10 times x cheek.

Next, we will look at some jaw exercises. These are important because tension or weakness in the jaw area puts pressure on the airways and contributes to sleep apnea episodes.

  1. Jaw resistance

With your mouth closed, put your hand under your chin keeping the tips of your fingers horizontally against the point where the chin meets the throat. Try to open your mouth and use your hand to create resistance against it. Essentially, you’re pushing downwards with your mouth, and upwards with your hand.

Repeat 10 times.

  1. Chewing gum

This exercise can tone both jaw and throat muscles. With your mouth closed, pretend you’re chewing gum. Make sure the molars touch each other with each “pretend chew” move, and let out an “hmmmm” sound while you do this, so that the throat muscles open up.

Repeat 10 times.

  1. Side to side

Open your mouth and move your jaw to the right side, keeping it in position for around 30 seconds. Then, move it to the opposite side and hold it for another 30 seconds.

Repeat the exercise 10 times.

These exercises can complement CPAP therapy or even make it more effective. But as it happens with other forms of exercise, they won’t deliver results overnight, so consistency and persistence are important if you want to see improvements. We recommend that you start with 10 minutes a day, repeating the entire list of exercise 2 or 3 times a day during a minimum of 3 months.

To make sure you get the most out of these exercises, ask your doctor or sleep specialist to demonstrate them. They may also suggest additional exercises that can help you cope better with the symptoms of sleep apnea.