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Silence the roar: Oropharyngeal exercises to reduce snoring
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Silence the roar: Oropharyngeal exercises to reduce snoring

Narrowing or collapse of the upper airways due to certain factors can give rise to snoring. Experts suggest certain strengthening exercises for the mouth and throat to address the issue

Some exercises to reduce snoring include touching your chin or nose with your tongue, moving your tongue sideways, pushing your tongue down and pressing your tongue against a spoon

Snoring, one of the most common sleep issues, occurs when an individual’s airway is partially or completely blocked, causing the tissues of their upper airway to vibrate when they breathe. It can also result from other disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, certain oropharyngeal (region comprising the mouth and throat) exercises, also referred to as myofunctional therapy, can help reduce snoring and improve one’s quality of life.

A study published in 2019 in the European Respiratory Journal found that oropharyngeal exercises were effective in improving sleep quality and reducing snoring and daytime sleepiness in people with OSA.

“Oropharyngeal exercises help to tone the airways and tongue muscles. This helps one to breathe through the nose, preventing snoring,” says Dr Lakshmi Narasimhan, consultant pulmonologist, Manipal Hospital, Mysuru.

What causes snoring?

During the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) stages of sleep, an individual experiences something known as hypotonia, which refers to decreased muscle tone, says Dr Sunil Kumar K, lead consultant, interventional pulmonology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore. “This can cause the airway muscles to relax and make them narrow, which in turn can cause snoring during sleep,” he explains.

In some cases, snoring can even lead to full windpipe closure, resulting in suffocation. In such cases, the individual should be woken up immediately.

According to Dr Narasimhan, snoring can primarily result from three factors. “Firstly, if an individual is overweight, their airway can get compressed when they lie down due to excess fat accumulation in the neck. Secondly, any deformities or disorders of the nasal or throat region can cause narrowing of the upper airways, which can lead to snoring. Thirdly, allergies can also make the upper airways narrow, causing one to snore,” he explains.

Hence, besides certain lifestyle alterations, Dr Kumar recommends some oropharyngeal exercises for those with mild-to-moderate sleep apnea, as they can help reduce snoring by strengthening the muscles in the region and increasing their tone.

Oropharyngeal exercises to reduce snoring

Oropharyngeal exercises or myofunctional therapy refer to a series of exercises designed to strengthen the muscles in one’s oropharynx so that they do not collapse during sleep and cause snoring, explains Dr Saud Ahmed, consultant ENT specialist, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore. Some common exercises that one can do are as follows:

♦ Pushing out the tongue

Experts say that pushing out the tongue as far as possible helps strengthen the pharyngeal muscles (throat muscles), reducing snoring. “You can touch your chin or nose with your tongue for five seconds, relax and repeat the process. Do this at least thrice a day,” advises Dr Saud. One can also curl their tongue up and press it against their lower teeth. Further, they can take a spoon, stick out their tongue and press it against the spoon.

♦ Pushing the tongue up

This involves pushing the tongue up to the roof of the mouth for five seconds and then relaxing. Doing this three to eight times a day will not only strengthen the tongue but also the soft palate.

♦ Moving the tongue

This requires one to move their tongue towards the left and right sides of their face. Dr Kumar recommends doing this exercise twice on each side (three times a day) to reduce snoring.

♦ Lowering the tongue

One should look in the mirror and lower their tongue down as far as possible for five seconds. It’s best to repeat this three times to strengthen the upper part of the throat.

♦ Pressing the tongue against the teeth

This exercise requires individuals to place their tongue next to their front teeth and press it down. One can also gulp while looking up at the ceiling.

Enunciating vowels can help

In addition to the tongue exercises, experts say that pronouncing vowel sounds can help tone the muscles in the neck. Individuals can do this by enunciating the vowels a, e, i, o and u in a regular tone, increasing the volume gradually. They can also increase the repetition of pronouncing each vowel. Each sound should ideally be repeated approximately 10 times. Additionally, it’s also essential to combine the sounds of two vowels while transitioning to the next one.

Pranayama is a useful tool

According to experts, breathing exercises like pranayama (a form of yoga that strengthens the neck and facial muscles) can also help reduce snoring in people with mild-to-moderate OSA. The exercise makes it easier for people to breathe through their nose, lowering the frequency of breathing through the mouth, which leads to snoring. “Pranayama helps reduce snoring issues in people with mild to moderate OSA; however, it doesn’t work for those with severe OSA,” shares Dr Kumar.

Takeaways

  • Sleep disorders like OSA can cause individuals to snore. Certain exercises of the mouth and throat (also known as the oropharynx) can help strengthen and tone the muscles in that region, which in turn can reduce snoring.
  • Some common exercises to reduce snoring include touching your chin or nose with your tongue, moving your tongue sideways, pushing your tongue down and pressing your tongue against a spoon.
  • Apart from these exercises, enunciating the vowels (gradually increasing your volume) and pranayama can also help tone and strengthen the oropharyngeal muscles, reducing snoring.

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