Sleep is essential for our body and mind. When we do not get enough sleep or if our sleep patterns at night are constantly being interrupted due to sleep apnea, then our health takes a toll.
Studies show that sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain. Sleep apnea is commonly treated with either a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or Bi-level Pap machine but, Tammie Zainc, MA, ACSM-REP claims that exercise can also play an essential role in treating sleep apnea.
Symptoms and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea
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Sleep apnea can go undetected since the individual may not realize that their body is awakened throughout the night. Surprisingly, most adults with sleep apnea have no recollection of awakening events throughout the night.
Normally, the only sign of this serious condition might be daytime fatigue and reports of loud snoring from a bed partner.
However, most people with sleep apnea usually have one or more of the following symptoms.
Excessive and inappropriate daytime sleepiness
Loud snoring occurring virtually every night
Apneas (pauses in breathing) witnessed by bed partner
Episodes of waking at night feeling short of breath or gasping for air
Problems with memory and/or concentration
Changes in mood, particularly depression
Sleep apnea is a common condition which is a sleep-related breathing disorder which leads individuals to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep.
Sleep apnea is often associated with people who are overweight – weight gain leads to compromised respiratory function when an individual’s trunk and neck area increase from weight gain. One frequently cited study suggests that 4% of middle-aged men and 2% of middle-aged women in the United States have OSA (Obstructed Sleep Apnea).1
There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing OSA. Some are hereditary; others are the result of age and/or lifestyle.
Obesity: approximately two-thirds of people with OSA are overweight or obese
Family history of OSA or snoring
Small lower jaw and certain other facial configurations
Large neck circumference
Alcohol consumption at bedtime
Post-menopausal (for women)
Hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone)
Acromegaly (high levels of growth hormone)
The Role Exercise Plays in Treating Sleep Apnea
Once an individual is properly tested and diagnosed with sleep apnea, they are fitted with a PAP machine to wear at night while they sleep.
The PAP machine is the first line of defense for sleep apnea and provides positive airway pressure to ensure an individual’s breathing is not interrupted throughout the night.
When an individual is finally getting restful sleep and starting to feel better throughout the day, it is a great time to add exercise into your daily routine to help fight against sleep apnea.
“Studies show that just adding an exercise program of brisk walking and resistance training can decrease the severity of sleep apnea by 25%” 2
So what specific exercises are best to add to your workout?
Yoga: Yoga is appropriate for all ages and can greatly reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep. Yoga has specific breathing and relaxation techniques that can relieve your sleep apnea and snoring problem. The special type of yoga that promotes sleep is called Yoga Nidra, which in Sanskrit means Sleep.
Brisk walking: Simply adding brisk walking for 30-40 minutes 4 times per week can greatly reduce your sleep apnea symptoms.
Weight training: By adding weight training to your exercise routine, you will lose more weight by adding more lean muscle which can also help reduce symptoms of sleep apnea.
Throat and tongue exercises: One study found a 39% reduction in sleep apnea severity through throat/tongue exercises. Speech pathologists taught 16 of the patients to do tongue and facial exercises for half an hour daily.
Those exercises included brushing the tongue with a toothbrush, putting the tip of the tongue on the soft palate and sliding the tongue backward, pronouncing vowels quickly or continuously, and keeping the tongue in a certain position when eating.
The Main Goal for Adding Exercise to Your Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Ultimately, when attempting to decrease your sleep apnea severity through exercise, overall weight loss and an increase in muscular strength are crucial.
By lowering your body weight, you will not only sleep more soundly but, you will also reduce blood pressure, lower total cholesterol, and lower your risk for developing type II diabetes.
If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, it is in your best interest to speak with your physician about safely starting an exercise routine.
Young T, Palta M, Dempsey J, Skatrud J, Weber S, Badr S. The occurrence of sleep-disordered breathing among middle-aged adults. N Engl J Med 1993;328:1230-5.
Goodman, Brenda. Exercise Improves Sleep and Nighttime Breathing Trouble. Medicine.Net. 2011. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=145781