It’s a pretty common occurrence: you or someone you share a bed with snores at night, or even worse – in the case of sleep apnea – wakes up struggling to breathe, and even choking. Although this image is comical, the reality ranges from annoying to downright frightening.
Didgeridoo Helps Cure Sleep Apnea!
In a 2005 study, researchers discovered that didgeridoo offers some relief to those who suffer from sleep apnea. The conclusion of the study stated:
In this randomised controlled trial we found that four months of training of the upper airways by didgeridoo playing reduces daytime sleepiness in people with snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. . . In addition, the partners of participants in the didgeridoo group were much less disturbed in their sleep. (BMJ 2006;332:266)
This study can be found here if you’d like to read in more depth.
I get a lot of requests from potential students seeking support for their condition. They often ask me if it really works, and why. In my work as a didgeridoo instructor, I’ve come up with a number of reasons, and the good news is: yes, playing didgeridoo can help!
First: Be Ready to Work!
Learning to play didgeridoo requires time, patience, and persistence. It is not a passive remedy for sleep apnea, nor is it the sort of instrument that rewards a new player with interesting songs in a short period of time. One can play a few chords on the ukulele, for example, and unlock a world of songs in a relatively short time. The didgeridoo doesn’t reveal it depths nearly so quickly. It takes time for the muscles of the mouth to develop the strength and accuracy needed to fully enjoy playing.
All that being said, however, I find playing to be one of the most rewarding, relaxing, meditative, and inspiring experiences. I definitely think it is worth the effort!
How Does Didgeridoo Help?
To put it simply, sleep apnea is caused by weakness in the throat and diaphragm. At night, the diaphragm may struggle to expand the ribs and lungs enough for deep breathing, or the muscles of the throat may sag and even collapse, blocking off the air passage. There may be other factors involved, but from my research, these seem to be the most common explanations.
Didgeridoo addresses these issues very direct ways:
- Regular practice of a wind instrument provides exercise for the diaphragm. As the diaphragm strengthens, it gets better at providing you with enough air while you sleep.
- The sounds of the didgeridoo are formed inside the mouth. There are no keys to press or holes to cover. Every aspect of playing the didgeridoo relies upon – and strengthens – the entire mouth and throat region.
- Circular breathing, the technique of playing and breathing at the same time, relies on closing and opening the back of the throat. This process happens constantly, and provides a very focused way to build strength and sensitivity in the muscles of the throat.
How Quickly Does It Work?
My preferred answer is: it depends on how much you practice! The more one plays, the more one will engage in the above three processes, all of which strengthen the systems involved in breathing. Every individual has unique hurdles to overcome when learning a musical instrument, and a varying degree of weakness or strength in the affected areas.
But for a bit more of a specific answer, I can say that at least 20 minutes once a day or 10 minutes twice a day is needed to reach a point when new strength will begin to develop. Any less than this just doesn’t work the muscles enough. And more is only helpful until those muscles tire and lose effectiveness.
So my common answer is for students to give themselves 3-4 months playing 20 minutes per day, and then assess from there.
It Helped Me Too!
I know from experience that playing didgeridoo strengthens the mouth, diaphragm, and throat! My own minor snoring has all but vanished, and my endurance while playing has definitely increased. I even went running after a long break from strenuous activity, and although my legs grew tired after a few miles, my lungs felt like they could go forever! With enough commitment to the art of playing didgeridoo itself, the reduction or total healing of sleep apnea could end up being a very welcome side effect!
And I think that’s how one must actually approach it: for the love of the sound of the didgeridoo itself, more than for its use as a remedy.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear them!