Throat Exercises for Sleep Apnea: Benefits, Techniques & Successes

If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your sleep therapist may have suggested a number of lifestyle changes to help relieve these symptoms -- such as sleeping on your side, avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking. 

You may use a PAP (positive air pressure) machine at night to help keep your airways open so you can breathe properly. However, there may be a few other things you can do to help prevent one of the most irritating symptoms -- snoring.

Studies have found that tongue, throat and mouth exercises may help reduce snoring. 

Like any other muscle in the body, it is important to exercise, strengthen and tone them. This should be done in conjunction with any other therapy that your sleep expert has recommended.

It's also a good idea to talk to your therapist about the benefits of these exercises -- and to discuss any reasons why you shouldn't try them. However, studies show that some people can experience benefits after three months of exercises, doing them just three times a day.

Some simple exercises that you can start with:

Nasal breathing - try breathing in through one nostril and out through the other while keeping your mouth closed. Try this 10 times and then alternate.

Toning the muscles of the throat:

Simply recite the vowels “a e i o u” up to 20 times and varying how long you sound them.

For mouth and throat muscles:

Try singing! Just making a variety of sounds out loud can help strengthen and tone muscles.

Exercises for the mouth and throat are called oropharyngeal exercises. If you know which part of your mouth is particularly weak, you can help strengthen that area with targeted exercises. 

For some people, the throat muscles may need toning, especially if the throat muscles tend to collapse as you sleep. If you have been advised that your tongue tends to block your throat while you sleep, you could look at tongue exercises. 

The Sleep Foundation suggests these:

Tongue Exercise #1: Tongue Slide

Tongue exercise moving from front to back of the palate. 

Place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top front teeth. Slowly slide your tongue backward with the tip moving along the roof of your mouth. Repeat 5-10 times.

This strengthens your tongue and throat muscles.

Tongue Exercise #2: Tongue Stretch

Stick out your tongue as far as you can. Try to touch your chin with your tongue while looking at the ceiling. Hold for 10 – 15 seconds and increase the duration gradually. Repeat 5 times.

This increases tongue strength.

Tongue Exercise #3: Tongue Push Up

Stick your tongue upward against the roof of your mouth and press your entire tongue against it. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

This helps improve both tongue and soft palate tone and strength.

Tongue Exercise #4: Tongue Push Down

Put the tip of your tongue against your lower front teeth and then push the back of your tongue flat against the floor of your mouth. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

This helps improve both tongue and soft palate tone and strength.

Like all exercise, results don't happen overnight, and it is best to start little and often. Find the exercises that you enjoy and try to incorporate them into a daily routine. You are more likely to continue to do them if you enjoy the exercise and it becomes a habit. 

Throat Exercises

Lion Roar. It’s beneficial to strengthen your throat’s thin muscles. Simply open your mouth as wide as possible -- stick your tongue out as far as you can -- and roar for five seconds. Repeat ten times.

Sing Loud. When you sing, you strengthen the muscles in your soft palate and upper throat. Daily singing exercises have been shown to improve sleep apnea symptoms. Start singing the sound of each of the vowels in an elongated monotone.

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 also a helpful exercise. Close your mouth and inhale gently through your nose -- then press your lips together, exhaling by blowing the air out from your mouth. Try to blow air for five seconds and repeat ten times, three or four times daily.

Jaw Release. When you have a tight jaw, this 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 

- slide the tip of your tongue as far back as possible

With 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.

Yoga & More

Most people are familiar with the concept of yoga. An important part of yoga involves pranayama. The pranayama, which involves the control of breathing as you move through the yoga positions. Some studies have found that yoga can help relieve snoring and surprisingly, participants' neck circumference decreased. 

Cardiovascular training and stretching are beneficial for general health and sleep apnea symptoms. Just walking half an hour a few times a week can start to make a difference.

Exercise is a great way to keep your body and mind healthy. It may help reduce the symptoms of snoring associated with sleep apnea. This may be great news for people who share a bed as your partner's sleep is likely to be disrupted too.