Finally, a cure for the common snore. A new study shows that simple tongue and mouth exercises can slash the frequency of snoring and how loud it sounds.
Snoring usually happens when muscles in the throat, tongue, and roof of the mouth relax to the point that they partially block your airway and vibrate when you breathe. This creates the annoying sound. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, the airway blockage is much more significant, sometimes impeding breathing altogether until the lack of airflow jolts you awake.
To see what would happen if you firm those throat and mouth muscles up, Brazilian researchers conducted a study using patients who either had mild sleep apnea or whose chronic snoring wasn’t caused by an underlying condition. They trained half of the participants to do four tongue and mouth exercises. The regimen included pressing the tip of the tongue against the roof and sliding it backward, sucking the tongue upward and pressing it against the roof of the mouth, forcing the back of the tongue against the floor of the mouth while keeping the tip of the tongue in contact with the bottom front teeth, and elevating the back of the roof and uvula while saying the letter "A."
This group of snorers performed each of these exercises 20 times, three times a day, for the next three months. Meanwhile, the other half of the participants wore nasal breathing strips and simply performed deep-breathing exercises. By the end of the study, the latter group saw no significant improvements in their snoring. But those who performed the tongue and mouth exercises snored 36 percent less than they had previously and slashed their snoring power by 59 percent.
"We all breathe in by creating a vacuum in our airways, which pulls air into our lungs," says Dr. Barbara Phillips, president-designate of the American College of Chest Physicians and medical director of the Sleep Laboratory at the University of Kentucky. "In people who snore or have sleep apnea, that suction can close or narrow the airway. Strengthening the muscles in the back of the throat helps them resist this suction and keep the airway open, even when suction downstream is trying to pull it shut."
Phillips says she highly recommends trying these simple exercises. "This study adds to the evidence that people can improve their own health with simple behavioral changes that they can do on their own," she says.