What if playing a musical instrument could help your sleep apnea? A 2005 study from the University of Zurich, which was published in The British Medical Journal, found that playing the didgeridoo may actually be an effective sleep apnea treatment.
What is a Didgeridoo?
Before we talk about the study and its results, let’s talk about what the didgeridoo is. This instrument was introduced to the world by the indigenous people of Australia. The didgeridoo has been around for more than 1,500 years.
The didgeridoo is a cylindrical, wooden instrument that looks sort of like a long tube. These instruments can be anywhere from 3-10 feet long. Originally, these instruments were made of eucalyptus or bamboo branches that had been naturally hollowed out by termites. These early didgeridoos had mouthpieces made of beeswax.
Today, you’ll still find didgeridoos made of wood, but you’ll also find ones made from PVC pipe and duct tape.
Sleep Apnea Didgeridoo
Participants in the study were primarily men around the age of 50 who were experiencing severe daytime sleepiness. Each learned to play the didgeridoo through periodic lessons and were instructed to practice at least 20 minutes per day, 5 days a week. The study lasted four months, and all participants used identical didgeridoos.
As part of the experiment, participants were given the same four lessons, which included:
- Circular breathing, a technique that allows the player to maintain sound for longer periods of time. The technique involves inhaling through the nose while maintaining airflow through the didgeridoo. The cheeks are used as bellows.
- A lip technique used to produce and hold notes for 20-30 seconds.
- A technique that further optimized the interaction between the lips, the vocal tract and circular breathing. The technique makes vibrations in the upper airways more readily transmitted to the lower airways.
So, what were the results of this five-month experiment?
All participants were tested at the start and end of the study to analyze indicators of daytime sleepiness and quality of sleep. The results were compared to a control group, which did not play the instrument.
Those who played the didgeridoo made significant improvements for each indicator. Daytime sleepiness improved significantly.
The study was a success, but more research is needed to determine if playing the didgeridoo can really be effective at treating sleep apnea.
Why is the Didgeridoo Effective at Treating Sleep Apnea?
How could playing a musical instrument actually improve your sleep apnea? This isn’t pseudoscience. There is evidence to back up this claim, and the reason playing the didgeridoo is so effective is actually very simple.
Playing the didgeridoo strengthens the muscles of the throat and tongue.
And to be clear: you don’t necessarily have to play the didgeridoo to get these same benefits. Playing any woodwind instrument can help strengthen these muscles and improve or eliminate your sleep apnea.
But what makes the didgeridoo so effective is the circular breathing techniques and the fact that notes must be played for longer. To achieve the desired sound, you need more strength in the throat and tongue muscles.
Circular breathing, also known as nasal breathing, is used when playing certain wind instruments. The technique involves inhaling only through the nose. The inhalation fills the lungs with air, and the player reserves air in the mouth to use while blowing into the instrument. This is why you see the cheeks bulge and collapse while playing wind instruments.
It’s important to note that circular breathing isn’t something that can be learned overnight. It takes practice to master, but it’s the practicing that will help strengthen your throat and tongue muscles – if you’re playing the didgeridoo or another wind instrument.
It’s recommended that you practice for 20 minutes a day, five days a week. You can break those sessions up throughout the day if you wish, playing for just a few minutes at a time.
Is the Didgeridoo for Everyone?
Why would someone take up playing the didgeridoo to stop snoring and sleep apnea when there are conventional treatments available?
If you’re looking for a more natural approach – one that solves the root cause of the problem – playing the didgeridoo may be a good option for you.
But many people actually turn to the didgeridoo as a last resort. The conventional treatment for sleep apnea, the CPAP machine, isn’t a good fit for everyone.
The masks are large, and they’re uncomfortable to sleep with. For some, the quality of sleep with a CPAP machine is worse than it is without it.
The didgeridoo offers an alternative treatment option, or a supplemental treatment to your current treatment. Never stop your conventional treatment without talking to your doctor.
But playing the didgeridoo won’t be effective for everyone. This treatment method isn’t a good fit for anyone who:
- Is obese.
- Suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnea.
- Underwent Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, as toned neck muscles are a requirement to play this instrument.
- Has a structural defect in the skull or airways.
- Has central sleep apnea.
If the didgeridoo is a good fit for you, don’t assume that you’ve completely eliminated your sleep apnea. Don’t stop using your CPAP machine until you’ve had another sleep study performed. If you stop using your machine prematurely, you may hinder your progress.
If you’re looking for a new way to treat your sleep apnea, you may consider talking to your doctor about the didgeridoo. You’ll find lessons and instruments online. There are even some instructional courses that are purely focused on playing the didgeridoo to improve sleep apnea symptoms and snoring.
What Other Sleep Apnea Treatment Options Are Available?
There are many different options for people who are suffering from sleep apnea. The most severe cases can be treated with surgery, however there are far more unobtrusive and simple solutions you should try before anything else. There are two inexpensive treatments that can alleviate most people’s symptoms and they are:
- Mouth guards
- Specially designed sleep apnea pillows
Both of these can be purchased online very cheaply and may solve your sleep problems. If you would like to see our recommendations for the mouth guards we find most effective, go here. To see which pillows we recommend, please visit this page.
Allie has worked in care facilities for the last 15 years providing mobility and health care to seniors of all skill levels. She is passionate about senior advocacy and is and loves to spend her free time in the outdoors.