Home / My Blog / Sleep Apnea and Myofunctional Therapy

How do sleep apnea and myofunctional therapy fit together? Unfortunately, not too many people out there tend to make any kind of connection between the two. This is true for patients and many health professionals alike.

But as we’ll see in this article, there are some great reasons for people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and other forms of sleep disordered breathing to work with a myofunctional therapist.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disordered breathing. The American Thoracic Society defines sleep disordered breathing as: “Sleep-disordered breathing is an umbrella term for several chronic conditions in which partial or complete cessation of breathing occurs many times throughout the night, resulting in daytime sleepiness or fatigue that interferes with a person’s ability to function and reduces quality of life.  

Symptoms may include snoring, pauses in breathing described by bed partners, and disturbed sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is by far the most common form of sleep-disordered breathing, is associated with many other adverse health consequences, including an increased risk of death.”

That last line is so important because it helps to properly frame the discussion. Sleep disordered breathing and sleep apnea need to be taken seriously because they can have some very serious effects on health.

Research shows that there’s a definite link between sleep disordered breathing and an increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. For example, this study is very comprehensive because it covered an 18-year period and a sample size of over 1,500 people. It states:

“All-cause mortality risk, adjusted for age, sex, BMI, and other factors was significantly increased with SDB (Sleep Disordered Breathing) severity.” 

Sleep apnea is a health condition that needs to be addressed, and myofunctional therapy can help as part of a multidisciplinary treatment approach. 

The Sleep Apnea And Myofunctional Therapy Connection

Myofunctional therapy is all about the airway. My practice revolves around my Four Goals of Myofunctional Therapy, which are all designed to address airway-related health conditions and symptoms. In fact, I tell my patients every day that the airway is my main focus.

In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, the airway is being obstructed or blocked, and when that happens, you can’t breathe properly.

The tongue can play a major role in the development of sleep apnea and other sleep disordered breathing conditions. The tongue should ideally rest fully in the top of the mouth, making contact with the palate all the way from the front to the back, and the mouth should be closed. That’s the correct oral resting posture.

Problems occur when the tongue rests low in the mouth because of poor muscle tone and learned habits, or when there’s physically not enough room for the tongue because of compromised craniofacial development. This means the tongue is more likely to fall back and obstruct the airway when sleeping. This increases the overall risk for sleep apnea.

The video below can help to make the tongue and airway’s connection to sleep apnea quite clear.

Myofunctional Therapy Exercises And Sleep Apnea

Research has shown that myofunctional therapy exercises can help to ease the symptoms of sleep disordered breathing and sleep apnea.

For example, this study titled Myofunctional Therapy to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis concludes that “Current literature demonstrates that myofunctional therapy decreases apnea-hypopnea index by approximately 50% in adults and 62% in children. Lowest oxygen saturations, snoring, and sleepiness outcomes improve in adults. Myofunctional therapy could serve as an adjunct to other obstructive sleep apnea treatments.”

Another study titled Critical role of myofascial reeducation in pediatric sleep-disordered breathing showed that children who did not receive myofunctional therapy after having their tonsils and adenoids removed and having orthodontic treatment tended to have their sleep disordered breathing reoccur. However, all of the children who did go through myofunctional therapy did not have their problems reoccur.

And this study titled Oropharyngeal exercises in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea: our experience found that “Graded oropharyngeal exercise therapy increases the compliance and also reduces the severity of mild to moderate OSAS (Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome).

Sleep Apnea and Myofunctional Therapy

I believe that myofunctional therapy should be a key part of any multidisciplinary approach to addressing the symptoms and effects of sleep disordered breathing. With the correct diagnosis from a sleep doctor, a myofunctional therapist specializing in sleep-related breathing disorders can work closely with doctors, dentists, and surgeons to help patients get the best possible outcomes from their overall treatment. Best of all, myofunctional therapy is non-invasive, and the exercises are easy to do.

 
 

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