Snoring and sleep apnea are problems that affect an increasing number of adults. However, children can also be affected. Dry mouth, headache but also stress and daytime sleepiness are the possible consequences. What to do in these cases? Sure, a lifestyle change can help. The article we are talking about today is dedicated to the changes that we can implement every day to improve the quality of sleep and thus also of our life (Kaleelullah et al, Cureus, 2021).
Snoring and sleep apnea, causes and risks
When the airways are partially obstructed, snoring can happen during sleep. If this obstruction becomes complete then breathing is interrupted in what is called sleep apnea that, sometimes, can even happen hundreds of times in a night. The causes of this condition are various and include obesity, the use of sedatives, alcohol consumption, smoking but also nasal congestion. Snoring and sleep apnea, when they occur, may not wake us up and so in this way we may not notice what is happening, however our body notices it as the complete or partial interruption of breathing prevents a good restful sleep. And so the next day it is common to wake up with a headache, or in any case suffer from it during the day, to develop over time depression and anxiety but also to show daytime sleepiness. The latter consequence is particularly dangerous, especially if we have to drive. In fact, a very recent study observed that for every 8 interruptions per hour of breathing during sleep, the risk of accidents in the car due to misplaced actions such as sudden braking or excessive acceleration increases by 27% (Doherty et al, Sleep, 2022).
Lifestyle changes that counter snoring and sleep apnea
There are lifestyle changes that have been shown to improve snoring and sleep apnea. Let's see them. First, it is important to fight overweight and obesity. In fact, weight loss, but only in the presence of overweight, has led to a general improvement in sleep apnea. It is also very important to follow the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet, thus preferring whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fish, extra virgin olive oil and limiting meat, refined and processed products. This type of diet helps to keep weight under control and provides valuable antioxidants, vitamins and mineral salts, which are also useful for counteracting inflammation, which could worsen sleep apnea. Very important, both for sleep apnea but also for health in general, is to stop smoking, if you are doing it. Speaking now limited to snoring and sleep apnea, nicotine stimulates relaxation of the upper airways and increases inflammation, causing oropharyngeal narrowing that worsens both snoring and sleep apnea. Alcohol consumption should also be avoided, or at least limited, as ingesting products containing alcohol, such as wine or beer, increases the frequency and severity of sleep apnea. Great benefits have been observed by introducing regular exercise, at least three times a week. Finally, gymnastic exercises to strengthen the oropharyngeal muscles and the tongue have also proved very useful. Studies have shown that practicing these exercises consistently has led to a reduction in snoring and the severity of sleep apnea, with a marked improvement in the quality of life.
Exercises to strengthen muscles against snoring and sleep apnea
The exercises for the oropharyngeal muscles should be repeated 10 times each. In addition, the exercise group should be practiced 3-4 times a day. Let's see what these exercises are. Place the tip of the tongue on the palate, just behind the front teeth, and press upwards for 5 seconds. Stick out your tongue and try to touch the tip of your nose, or at least come closer, stay for 10 seconds, then relax. Then, try to touch your chin with the tip of your tongue, stay for 10 seconds then relax. Stick out your tongue and bring it to the left as far as you can, stay for 10 seconds, then relax. Do the same to the right. Then roll the tongue by approaching the outer edges towards the center, stay for 10 seconds. Snap your tongue against the roof of your mouth, continue for 15 seconds. Press the tip of your tongue against a spoon that you have placed next to you and that you are holding with your hands. Run for 10 seconds. Using only your lips, try holding the tip of a spoon handle in your mouth for 10 seconds. As you get better you can add more weight to the spoon, such as sugar cubes.