Sleep apnea, or interrupted breathing at night, affects 39 million adults in the US. This is a potentially major health concern, as sleep apnea raises the risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.

Unfortunately, the major treatment for sleep apnea, other than weight loss which is often indicated and recommended, are CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines during sleep, which many patients find intolerable or disruptive, so compliance is often poor. Not only that, but for those who are EMF sensitive, sleeping with an electrical device attached to the body can be problematic for other reasons as well.

Near-term alternatives to CPAP machines vary, depending upon whether the obstruction is due to nasal polyps or swollen nasal turbinates, or due to obstruction in the mouth, via the soft palate, tongue, and tonsils, or both. For the former, Breathe Right strips can sometimes be very beneficial, though of course the real treatment involves addressing the reason for the obstruction. For the latter, elevating the head of the bed can sometimes vary the angle enough to open the airways, and dental devices can sometimes move soft tissue out of the way.

But another promising option to potentially correct at least part of the problem is myofunctional therapy.

What Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy Is

Dysfunctional movements of facial and mouth muscles can result in various Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders (OMDs), and they can be either the cause of or the result of mouth breathing rather than nasal breathing. Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy, originally based on principles from speech language pathology, can help correct subsequent disorders in swallowing and positioning of the tongue that can contribute to breathing obstructions.

Myofunctional therapy is like physical therapy for the mouth, incorporating isotonic and isometric exercises to tone the relevant muscles.

Myofunctional Therapy Exercises

Exercises involved in myofunctional therapy can vary, but they may include the following:

  • Pushing the tongue against the hard palate and sliding it backwards
  • Sucking the tongue against the palate
  • Sucking something thick through a straw
  • Pushing the back of the tongue against the roof of the mouth while keeping the tip behind the bottom front teeth
  • Blowing up a balloon

Exercises should be done daily over a 6-12 month period for best results. Length of practice time varies from 45 minutes per day to 5-10 minutes daily, depending upon the practitioner’s recommendations.

Benefits of Myofunctional Therapy

Evidence shows that myofunctional therapy is indeed beneficial for reducing episodes of sleep apnea, and for reducing snoring. This review of eleven studies showed the same.

This review shows that myofunctional therapy specifically decreases apnea by about 50% in adults and 62% in children. These numbers are comparable to the benefit achieved from CPAP machines.

The Upshot

While myofunctional therapy takes time and dedication to achieve results, it’s certainly a better option than no therapy at all, for those who cannot tolerate the various alternative devices.