by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health
If youâve ever had to poke your spouse in the ribs in the middle of the night to get him/her to stop snoring, then you know how maddening this noisy habit can be — and how cumbersome many of the common treatments are (such as mouthpieces and special pillows). So I was delighted to learn about an easy (and fun!) solution — sing your snoring away.
My father actually stumbled across an anti-snoring singing program online and said it worked wonders for him. So I called the woman behind it — Alise Ojay, a singing instructor and choir director at the University of Exeter in the UK — to find out more about how busting out a tune might reduce (or even eliminate) snoring.
WARBLE YOUR WAY TO A QUIET NIGHT
First, Ojay reminded me why snoring makes the noise that it does — it occurs when airflow through your respiratory structures is partially blocked either by solid structures such as large tonsils or by any loose tissues, such as the walls of the throat and the soft palate (where the back of your throat meets the roof of your mouth). Any restriction makes your breath more turbulent, so if the soft palate has flopped back across the airway it can vibrate like a flag in the wind. The vibrations are what produce the loud, buzz sawlike sounds.
Then Ojay told me a story. Some years ago, a friend of hers who was in his 40s complained to her about his snoring problem, which was making it hard for him to develop a long-term relationship. He demonstrated the snoring noise that he made, and it struck Ojay that it sounded like his soft palate was lax. Good muscle control over the soft palate is vital for singers so they can choose to make either a bright clear sound (when the soft palate is raised) or a duller nasal sound (when the soft palate is dropped) and any sound quality in between. She thought to herself, “You can use singing to tone the soft palate so it will be more taut and less likely to vibrate in sleep.” Thus her do-it-yourself CD program, Singing for Snorers, was born. She sells the program on her Web site — three CDs and a 48-page instruction booklet — for 42 English pounds, which is roughly $70 for US customers.
TONE MUSCLES TO TONE DOWN SNORING
Singing for Snorers leads users through a vigorous workout for snoring-related respiratory structures — the soft palate, the arch at the back of the mouth, the tongue and nasal passages. When you repeat certain sounds, Ojay explained, the exercises isolate and work different airway muscles, just like you would target certain muscle groups at the gym to increase strength and fitness. For example, to tone the soft palate: Make the “ung-gah” sound. As you sing “ung,” your soft palate comes down to touch the back of your tongue… as you follow with “gah,” it lifts back up. Itâs important to sing these phrases and not just say them out loud, said Ojay, because when you sing, you use more energy and strength, so your muscles work harder — in other words, the more power you can bring to these exercises, the better.
Ojay noted that you donât have to be a good singer to get the full benefit of her program — because it doesnât matter how good you sound while you do it but only that you work the right muscles. If you decide to try the program, expect to sing along with the singer and instrumental background music on the CDs for 12 minutes a day for the first month and 18 minutes a day during the second and third months. The exercises require a good amount of energy and are “enlivening,” according to Ojay — so itâs best to perform them during the day when you have plenty of energy to do them right (and so they donât rev you up too much before bedtime). She adds that users vary tremendously in how quickly they see results. Most see changes by the second month, but when her own partner tried her treatment, his snoring continued to the third week of the third month… and then he suddenly stopped for good. More than 3,000 people have bought Ojayâs CDs and she advises users to maintain their tone once the program is finished by doing a “maintenance program,” which consists of singing through at least a few exercises a few times a week.
A DOCTORâS OPINION
To see what a doctor who deals with sleep-related problems thought of this novel type of treatment, I called William Kohler, MD, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Anything that strengthens, and in turn stabilizes, the throat can help stop snoring, said Dr. Kohler. In fact, he told me about a study that demonstrated that playing the didgeridoo — an Australian wind instrument — strengthened airways and reduced snoring in people with sleep apnea (a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts). So Dr. Kohler believes that singing may have a similar effect — though research needs to be done on the topic to confirm that. If more studies confirm the positive results — and if more doctors become aware that singing may help — Dr. Kohler thinks that more doctors may begin recommending singing as a treatment option.
At the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in England, researchers are working on just such a study. In the past few years, they have conducted a clinical trial of Ojayâs exercises in both chronic snorers and people with mild-to-moderate sleep apnea, and she expects the results to be published next year. In the meantime, if you snore, you might want to consider singing exercises as a more comfortable and enjoyable alternative to traditional snoring treatments. For more information about Ojayâs program, visit www.SingingforSnorers.com.
Caution: If snoring is severe (disrupts your sleep or your partnerâs sleep and/or leads to difficulty functioning the next day due to intense fatigue), consult a physician. In some cases, snoring is a sign of a serious underlying sleep disorder. You can find a sleep specialist in your area at the Web site of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (www.aasmnet.org).
Alise Ojay, singing instructor, choir director at the University of Exeter, UK, and a singer and composer. Ojay is the creator of the Singing for Snorers program (www.singingforsnorers.com).