Sleep Apnea: Cure it…With A Didgeridoo?

Do you feel chronically tired, or get up in the morning and still feel not rested? Assuming that you’re trying to get your needed 8 hours of sleep, perhaps you have what doctors call obstructive sleep apnea. This is a relatively common issue especially in very overweight people, where a part of your throat gets closed off while sleeping, which can cause you to not breathe for a few seconds, followed by sudden awakening as your body reacts to the lack of oxygen. If your partner is telling you that you snore a lot and that you also seem to stop breathing and suddenly catch your breath, perhaps you have apnea and may need evaluation.

I saw an excellent review article in the Wall Street Journal’s Health section (Relief of Sleep Apnea can be found using CPAP devices, but compliance is low), which details the latest research and treatments. The diagnosis is best made with a sleep study, where you sleep overnight in a medical lab which hooks you up to a lot of monitors and measures your breathing patterns. If you clearly have apnea, the usual choice of treatment is some type of mask which delivers a small amount of oxygen into your throat, hopefully enough to keep the airway open and give you perfect sleep. Many patients find this treatment immediate and almost miraculous in giving them a normal life again, full of energy. But the masks themselves can be uncomfortable — and you always need to wear it each night. Fortunately, the technology is constantly improving.

What also helps? Surgery is a last-resort option, but there are easier methods:

Simple lifestyle changes can add to the benefits of other treatments. Sleeping while lying on the side, instead of the back, can prevent the airway from closing, some studies show. Losing weight can help, and so can stopping smoking, since smoking leads to inflammation and fluid retention in the airway. Sufferers also should avoid alcohol and sedatives, which can further relax the airway during sleep.

One interesting footnote was research showing how the aboriginal instrument, the didgeridoo, can actually help strengthen your vocal cords and throat muscles enough to really improve your apnea:

If all else fails, there is always the didgeridoo, an indigenous Australian musical instrument. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, 25 patients with sleep apnea who practiced playing it for about 30 minutes a day, six days a week for four months, significantly reduced the number of apneas they had during sleep; daytime sleepiness also decreased. Scientist believe the breathing technique required to play the didgeridoo strengthens the upper airway and makes it less likely to collapse.

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One thought on “Sleep Apnea: Cure it…With A Didgeridoo?”

  1. Great post! My experience with sleep research in the U.S. definitely corroborates the concern patients have about the difficulty of using CPAP. I am actually conducting research on an alternative way to treat Sleep Apnea: using acupuncture to strengthen the airways. I'm working down in Wuhan and anecdotal evidence suggests patients would respond better to non-invasive therapy, if possible. I think the WSJ article downplays the didgeridoo a little because it sounds like a funny idea, even though actively strengthening airway muscles might be the most practical solution for many patients with moderate sleep apnea.

    My research is based off of a recent study on the same topic.

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