A simple tune will not create a harmonious mood but, yes, a great cure for sleep apnea!
Sing to Strengthen Support against Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea may be a common disease, but the burdens it places on the body can be pretty hard to bear. When it comes to treatment for apnea, it doesn’t have to be all work and no play. There are fun and inventive ways to help protect your body from the symptoms of sleep apnea, and singing therapy is one of the most productive and enjoyable alternative treatments that can be practiced.
Understanding the Throat Muscles
In order to understand the benefits that singing has on apnea victims, you must understand how the muscles and functions of the throat relate to sleep apnea. The throat is a vital part of the respiratory system; it is made up of muscles, delicate tissues, and cartilage. If the components that make up the airway are lacking strength and tone, they become loose. Weak muscle tone and excess weight around the neck are the two main reasons for airway obstruction.
- During sleep, the muscle and tissue in the throat that supports airway function relaxes. When the muscles relax too much, the airway becomes blocked and apneas occur. The narrowing or obstruction of the airway causes suction in the throat to increase. The loose tissue in the throat becomes a victim of the growing suction, and friction occurs; the friction often results in snoring.
- Airway obstruction can also be caused by the loosening of the soft palate; this is the back part of the roof of your mouth and is the structure that rises during swallowing. The soft palate separates the mouth from the pharynx, and it separates the back of the mouth from the naso-pharynx and the nasal cavity. When the palate is loose, it can fall back in the throat covering the airway and causing an apnea. When the lungs are deprived of oxygen, they have a stronger demand for inspiring breath. The extra suction created by frantic lung function will cause the palate to consistently be sucked back farther into the airway.
- If the tongue or the tonsils become too large, they can also fall back into the throat. The muscles that control the back of the tongue become too relaxed during sleep; the extreme relaxation causes the base of the tongue to collapse into the airway.
Singing is the perfect activity to exercise all of the different muscles that support the upper airway. In fact, the strongest muscles in the throat are the vocal cords; vibrations are made whenever the vocal cords touch each other. Singers must have control of the muscles that govern the upper region of the throat and the soft palate; singing exercises are specifically structured to target the soft palate, the tongue, the naso-pharynx, and the palatopharyngeal arch.
- Practicing musical vocal exercises can help restore the strength and tone of the throat. When the pharynx is healthy and toned, the upper airway is less likely to be susceptible to collapse and obstruction. An athletic pharynx is wide and creates an open, gentle path for breath to travel through with no turbulence.
- People who suffer from sleep apnea know how important keeping the respiratory system healthy is to the severity of their condition. Apnea causes the body to experience reduced levels of oxygen, and the breathing apparatus needs more assistance from the diaphragm to keep attempting inspiration. Singing requires proper breath support and is a great way to help strengthen the muscles of the diaphragm.
- Commitment to the exercises will also help you gain a better sense of control over the muscles you use in respiratory functions.
How is Singing Therapy Different than Regular Singing?
It is important to understand there are very specific types of singing exercises that focus on the muscles of the airway. Not all vocal exercises are developed to target these muscles, and throat tone will not be strengthened by all types of singing.
- The purpose of these exercises is not to create pleasant sounding music, it is to create and strengthen a reliable support system in the throat for respiratory function.
- When singing exercises are used as a tool for physical therapy, the main focus is the repetition of emphasized sounds and tunes. Most of the exercises incorporate exaggerated facial expressions meant to strengthen the muscles of the mouth and neck.
- Repetitive yawning is an important part of singing therapy. Yawning stretches the same muscles in the throat that are affected by singing. Intentional repetitive yawning is a great way to warm up the muscles of the throat before a vigorous workout.
- The muscles in the throat are no different from the other muscles of the body. In order for them to get stronger, they must be worked out regularly. The repair and toning of muscle tissue is a gradual process and you will not see immediate results, but after a short period of dedicated practice, singing exercised will improve the muscle.
- While practice is a vital part of vocal strength and health, it is important not to work the muscles too hard. Don’t target the same muscles of the throat two days in a row; working the delicate muscles too hard will cause them to become strained and damaged.
Singing Therapy Exercises
Singing therapy is a fun and logical answer for people with lax pharyngeal muscles. It can be done in the privacy of your own home at absolutely no cost to you. You should always consult a medical care professional for a full evaluation of your sleep apnea to make sure that singing exercises meet your unique vocal and respiratory needs. Although singing therapy can make a huge difference in the severity of your apnea, it is not a cure for the disorder and should never be the only form of treatment you practice.
Below are a couple of really simple singing exercises that, if practiced correctly and regularly, can help tone the pharyngeal muscles needed for airway support:
- The Odd Couple Exercise: In the TV sitcom, The Odd Couple, Tony Randal played a character named Felix Unger. Singing that name, Felix Unger, exercises all of the pharyngeal muscles. The first name, Felix, causes the tongue to move back and forth, giving the tongue and the vocal folds a strong workout. When the last name, Unger, is sang the muscles in the upper region of the throat are exercised. Take a deep breath and sing the name ten to twenty times about two hours before bedtime. Focus on singing with a steady tonal quality and proper breath support.
- Syllable Repetition: Incorporating the full power of your voice, sing la-la-la-la-la with as much power as you can. Hold each individual la for at least three seconds. Focus on the activity of the muscles in the throat and neck during singing; take note of discomfort or stress. Repeat this process with the series ka-ka-ka-ka-ka, and then finally ma-ma-ma-ma-ma. Make sure that you are giving the muscles a workout but not causing any strain.