Snoring affects as many as 40 percent of adults, and it also affects their sleeping partners. Now new research from Brazil finds some exercises that may help snorers and their spouses sleep better.
Geraldo Lorenzi-Filho directs the sleep lab at the University of Sao Paolo. He sees a lot of people who come in complaining about their snoring. Usually, he says, they're sent to him by a sleepy spouse.
"Snoring is a symptom that is related by somebody else, so if you sleep alone, you don't snore... by definition," Lorenzi says.
He says snoring occurs when the muscles of the upper airway relax during sleep. As they collapse, the airway becomes blocked and the person temporarily stops breathing, causing a condition called sleep apnea. The snore is the sound of the airway being forced open again.
Lorenzi says a speech therapist friend noticed that some patients had less snoring after doing mouth exercises involving the tongue and upper airway. Together, they decided to study patients who were doing daily oral exercises. For example, one tongue exercise involves using suction to flatten the tongue against the top of the mouth. They created a regimen of exercises that take about 30 minutes a day.
"But it doesn't have to be exactly 30 minutes in one time," Lorenzi says. "They could do exercise when they are driving, in a traffic jam. A lot of our patients were doing these exercises when they were usually in the car."
Lorenzi says the patients doing the exercises had dramatic results.
"After three months, there was quite a significant reduction of the sleep apnea symptoms and decreasing the number of respiratory events, meaning apnea, by around 40 percent," Lorenzi says.
Usually, apnea patients are told there's nothing they can do to change their own physiology. In order to sleep soundly, these patients frequently end up wearing a pressurized mask.
But Lorenzi says these results could lead to a paradigm shift for sleep researchers.
"These upper airway muscles are not necessarily weak... so the concept here, and this is a new concept for our area, is that these exercises are working on remodeling and restoring the physiology of the muscles," Lorenzi says.
Lorenzi would like to determine which exercises work best. And he says he'd like to do a larger study, including many more patients, doing more focused exercises.
Lorenzi's research is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.