Pillow Talk: Physical Therapy for Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which you stop breathing, temporarily, in your sleep, often multiple times an hour. As the name suggests, something blocking an airway causes the problem. The implications of untreated OSA can include excessive daytime fatigue, high blood pressure and a greater risk of stroke or heart attack.

In some cases, the primary cause of OSA is that your tongue is longer or larger than normal and collapses in the rear of your throat during sleep. Many cases of OSA have other roots, however, includingobesity, physical obstructions (enlarged tonsils, deviated septum, etc.) and genetics (OSA tends to run in families).

Certainly, we cannot change your family history, nor can we perform surgery to correct a problem like enlarged tonsils (although such surgery may indeed be warranted). However, to deal with a collapsed tongue, we can prescribe tongue and throat exercises that may strengthen the muscles and provide enough “training” so this will happen much less often.

When obesity is a primary cause, excess tissue is present in the airways, blocking them and preventing normal respiration. Because losing weight improves OSA, we will begin by customizing a diet and exercise plan expressly for you, your age and your fitness level.

Not only will exercise help you lose weight but the physical exertion itself may help improve your sleep. Studies have shown a correlation between a better night’s sleep and a period of exercise, 10 minutes or more, during the previous day. Walking is a great place to start, but consult your physician if you have not been exercising for a while.

By the way, experts no longer believe that, for most people, exercising too close to bedtime detracts from sleep. Fitting in exercise whenever you can is fine and can break the vicious cycle of not sleeping well, then feeling too tired to exercise, then having the lack of exercise detract from sleep and so on.

Because a satisfactory night’s sleep is getting more and more recognition as essential to good health, we strongly recommend a comprehensive physical therapy treatment for OSA. Let us put you on the way to a restful sleep and a wide-awake, productive day!