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Can Exercise Help Sleep Apnea?

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Have you ever woken up after a night’s rest still feeling tired? Has your partner told you that you snore loudly? You may have sleep apnea.

That may not surprise you, and you may have already talked to an expert about this common condition. But did you know there are steps you can take that might help reduce the severity of your condition? Physical activity and oral exercise can help reduce sleep apnea symptoms and help you sleep easier.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by the repeated interruption of your breathing while you sleep. This halted breathing can lead to decreased oxygen levels in the body and have serious consequences such as fatigue, irritability, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your upper airway becomes blocked while you sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea is a much rarer form of apnea that occurs when your brain doesn’t communicate properly with the muscles that control your breathing.

After evaluating your symptoms and overall health, your doctor may suggest a sleep study to diagnose whether or not you have sleep apnea.

Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, but some factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Anatomy of your head and neck
  • Higher BMI
  • Smoking
  • A family history of sleep apnea
  • Nasal congestion

Central sleep apnea most often occurs after another medical problem, though it is also more likely in people over 65 and men.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

It can be challenging to notice the symptoms of sleep apnea immediately, as they typically occur while you’re asleep. Some might build up over time as you find yourself more fatigued or irritable day by day. Other symptoms might only be observed by your bed partner when you wake up.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Tiredness
  • Loud snoring with gasping or choking sounds
  • Morning headaches that may last for hours
  • Dry mouth when you wake up
  • Restless sleep as you wake up throughout the night
  • Persistent waking up to urinate
  • Frustration or irritability
  • Lack of focus throughout the day

Other health issues can cause some of these symptoms, so getting a proper diagnosis is essential.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Body

While poor sleep quality characterizes sleep apnea, it can affect more than just how you spend your night. Sleep apnea results in lower oxygen levels, and the physical side effects of being unable to breathe will often leave you feeling exhausted.

This creates a cycle where you sleep poorly, which affects your health, and further lowers the quality of your sleep. Because of this, sleep apnea can increase your risk for other health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease or heart failure
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Issues with concentration or memory
  • Depression and other mood disturbances
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
A young couple running in the park. Running can improve the body’s ability to use oxygen, which is crucial for maintaining healthy breathing during sleep.

Staying Active to Fight Sleep Apnea

Your sleep apnea symptoms won’t improve on their own and could worsen if left untreated. Even a small improvement in your daily activity can affect your symptoms. While simple exercise won’t be able to eradicate your sleep apnea symptoms completely, it can help improve your breathing and help you sleep.

Sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight or obese, and weight loss is proven to reduce sleep apnea severity. You can also do exercises to strengthen your neck muscles and train your body to breathe from the diaphragm, potentially reducing blockages to your airway.


One of the most effective forms of exercise for sleep apnea is cardiovascular exercise. Exercises such as running, cycling, swimming, or even simply going for a walk a few times a week can improve the body’s ability to use oxygen, which is crucial for maintaining healthy breathing during sleep.

Yoga and Stretching

Yoga is a form of exercise based on postures, movements, and breathing techniques. It can be an effective addition to sleep apnea treatments because these exercises can strengthen your upper airway muscles and positively affect your breathing patterns. A short yoga session daily could decrease your neck circumference, snoring, and daytime sleepiness.

Oral Exercises

Oropharyngeal exercises can strengthen the muscles used in breathing, working your throat, tongue, soft palate, and jaw to help you sleep easier at night. Consider adding some of these exercises to your daily routine:

  • Tiger yell: Begin by opening your mouth as wide as you can, then stick your tongue out like you’re trying to lick your chin. Hold this for five seconds and repeat ten times to strengthen your throat muscles.
  • Singing: A simple one. Just sing along to your favourite song. This can strengthen your soft palate and upper throat, giving a solid base for your muscles while you breathe. Also, it’s fun!
  • Tongue slides: Since sleep apnea can be caused by your tongue collapsing to the back of your throat, keeping your tongue strong can keep you breathing easily. Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide it backwards. Repeat this about 20 times for a good workout.
  • Soft palate stretches: The best way to stretch your soft palate is to open your mouth as wide as it’ll go and say “ah” for 20 seconds. Close your mouth and rest for 5 seconds, then repeat a few more times.
  • Jaw tension release: A loose jaw can help you breathe easier. With your mouth closed, place your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Slide it back as far as it can go, then open your mouth until your tongue can’t touch the roof anymore. Repeat this for about 5 minutes twice daily.

A Good Night’s Rest

Some lifestyle changes can affect your sleep apnea, letting you sleep soundly and through the night. However, depending on the severity of your apnea, more than exercise is needed. Dr. Saleema Adatia and her team can guide you through getting the proper treatment for you.

Stop waking up feeling tired. Book an appointment and get your restful sleep today!

Dr. Saleema Adatia

Written by Dr. Saleema Adatia

Dr Adatia did her dental training at Tufts University in Boston MA and graduated in 2006.  Returning to her hometown of Calgary, Dr. Adatia worked as an associate for many years before starting Symmetry Dental.  

Dr. Adatia has focused her clinical practice to the dental management of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. She has completed extensive training in dental sleep therapy, including a residency at her alma mater, Tufts University, and multiple courses focused on evidence-based education and the medical aspects of sleep related breathing disorders.

Dr. Adatia is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, which focuses on training dentists on how to provide oral appliance therapy for people who suffer from sleep apnea.  She has also been involved in clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of novel technologies for the treatment of OSA.

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