The didgeridoo is an instrument that people seem to either love or hate. Either you find yourself entranced by the droning rhythms, or they just get on your nerves. For lovers of the instrument, news that playing it might improve sleep apnea symptoms and reduce risk is likely just so much more sweet music.
But does the didgeridoo really improve sleep apnea symptoms? And do other wind instruments have a similar effect?
Do Wind Instruments Improve Sleep Apnea?
The first study to show that playing a wind instrument may reduce the incidence of sleep apnea came from a study of people who wanted to take didgeridoo lessons. This study showed that people who were taking didgeridoo lessons saw a significant decrease in daytime sleepiness and improvement in the severity of their sleep apnea. They also disturbed their partners less with snoring, though they did not report a significantly improved quality of life.
Another study that surveyed orchestra members sought to determine whether other wind instrument players would have reduced sleep apnea risk. However, using the Berlin Questionnaire (which asks about snoring, daytime sleepiness, and related medical conditions), they found that wind instrument players did not have a lower sleep apnea risk.
A more recent study using similar methodology found that only double reed instrument players, such as oboists and bassoonists, had a lower risk of sleep apnea.
Why It May Help You
The mechanism for this sleep apnea risk reduction is not well understood. Didgeridoo researchers proposed that circular breathing was responsible, but all wind instrument players use circular breathing and it was not found to be a significant factor. Instead, researchers proposed that the mechanism was exercising certain breathing muscles.
Increasing muscle tone in certain muscles in the airway can prevent or reduce the amount of airway constriction that occurs when you sleep. This is also the reason why choir singing may help both sleep apnea and snoring.
It is only likely to help some people, namely those who had onset of sleep apnea after age 40, but who are not obese.
In contrast, sleep apnea treatment with an oral appliance works for many more people, and doesn’t require hundreds of hours of practice. To learn more about oral appliance therapy, please contact My Hills Dentist in the Baulkham Hills area of Sydney.