Try “Throat Sit-Ups” for Quieter Sleep and a Healthier Life
Snoring can be a nightmare—both for the sufferer and his/her bed partner. But until recently, the treatments have been limited. A snorer might be told to lose weight, for example, wear a mouth guard or a mask (part of a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, system) that delivers a steady stream of air at night…change his sleeping position…or, in severe cases, get surgery.
New development: In a 2015 study of 39 men who snored or had mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common cause of snoring, scientists found that performing mouth and tongue exercises reduced the frequency and intensity of snoring by up to 59%—a reduction on par with other therapies, including mouth guards or surgery.
And while snoring may seem like more of an annoyance than a health problem, that is simply not true. Snoring has been linked to medical conditions, including heart attack, stroke and glaucoma. How mouth and tongue exercises can help…
SIT-UPS FOR YOUR THROAT
If your bed partner has complained of your snoring or you have unexplained daytime sleepiness, consider trying the following exercises.
About half of my patients improve enough after doing these exercises (think of them as “throat sit-ups”) for five minutes three times a day for six weeks to avoid surgery or other inconvenient therapies such as wearing a mouth guard or using CPAP. They also wake up feeling more refreshed and reduce their odds of developing OSA.
Here are the main exercises included in the recent study mentioned above (led by Geraldo Lorenzi-Filho, MD, PhD)—along with some slight variations that I have found to be effective for my patients. The tongue positions for these exercises strengthen your tongue muscle and the sides of your throat. However, my variations give these muscles a more rigorous strength-training workout.
• Tongue Push. What to do: Push the tip of your tongue forcefully behind your upper front teeth and move it all the way back along the roof of your mouth (palate) 20 times. My variation: Say the vowel sounds “A, E, I, O, U” while doing the exercise.
• Flat Tongue Press. What to do: Suck your tongue up against the roof of your mouth, pressing the entire tongue against your palate 20 times. My variation: Repeat “A, E, I, O, U” while doing the exercise.
• Say “Ahhh.” What to do: Focus on raising the back of the roof of the mouth and uvula (the fleshy appendage in the throat that’s responsible for the rattling sound made by snorers) 20 times. My variation: Say the vowel “A” (or “Ahhh”) while doing the exercise.
THESE THERAPIES HELP, TOO
Colds, allergies and sinus infections can cause nasal congestion and/or postnasal drip—two common conditions that can make your throat swell, increasing your risk for snoring. What helps…
• Nasal lavage (using a saline solution to irrigate and cleanse the nasal cavity) helps clear nasal congestion and postnasal drip. Subjects in the study mentioned above performed nasal lavage three times a day. Based on my clinical experience, once a day does the job.
A product that I created called The Hydro Pulse Sinus System ($100) works well. It includes a special throat attachment that directs pulsating irrigation to the tonsils and throat to ease swelling. But you could also use a neti pot (typical cost: $15)—just be sure to keep it clean and sanitized between uses and use distilled or sterile water to prevent a sinus infection. Or you can buy sterile squeeze bottles filled with nasal saline.
• Nose taping. With age, the tip of one’s nose naturally begins to droop some. This can obstruct the nasal valve, which impedes breathing and contributes to snoring.
Try this simple test: Use your finger to press the tip of your nose up. If breathing feels easier when you do this, try taping your nose up before bedtime. What to do: Cut a three-inch strip of one-half-inch medical grade tape. Place it under the nose at the center, without blocking the airway. Gently lift the nose as you run the tape up the midline of the nose to the area between the eyes. The taping should be comfortable and is for use during sleep. Important: Commercial nasal strips, such as Breathe Right, spread the sides of the nose apart. Taping up the nose, as described above, also does this, with the additional advantage of opening the nasal valve.