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How does the tongue affect our sleep?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a type of disordered sleeping that results in the person loosing oxygen for ten seconds or more at a time.  This can be a result of airway obstruction reducing the oxygen flow to the brain and vital organs. The muscles in soft palate, sides of your throat as well as the muscles in your tongue assist in creating an open airway during the day and at night.  

While we are awake, our muscles within the mouth remain active.  When we sleep, the muscles often remain inactive.  If the tongue is tied or the muscles are not toned, the tongue will often relax, sinking into the floor or the mouth and back towards the airway.  The restriction towards the back of the throat causes resistance to the airway and creates the snoring sound.  

Whether or not the episode lasts for two seconds or ten seconds, this results in reduced oxygen to the brain and organs and often times the heart rate rises when these episodes occur.  Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome is similar to sleep apnea in that you are loosing oxygen.  Often patients will not qualify for an Obstructive Sleep Apnea diagnosis but will still have a resistance in the airway resulting in daytime sleepiness, lack of focus, and an overall lack of wellness. 


Our sleep has many stages.  We must enter into the REM stage of sleep in order for our body to work to heal itself at night.  Whether your sleep interruptions are a result of diagnosed sleep apnea or other factors related to open mouth breathing and tongue posture, studies have shown exercises to tone the muscles within the mouth and tongue can help reduce the number of episodes within an hour.  

As a therapist, I do not treat sleep apnea, but have the opportunity to help you tone the muscles within the tongue and surrounding structures that support proper tongue posture and nasal breathing during sleep.  For those already on a C-PAP, studies have shown that therapy to tone the tongue and create a proper lip seal, help with C-PAP compliance. 


Sometimes there is a structural piece that can be corrected to help a patient achieve proper tongue posture at night.   A tongue tie can cause the tongue to restrict the airway.  Being able to identify signs and symptoms of a tongue tie is a crucial piece to an Oral Myofunctional therapy program.  A full functional evaluation will help to identify if a tongue tie may be present or if the muscles surround the airway simply need to be toned.  Whether sleep apnea has been diagnosed or not, if open mouth breathing and snoring are affecting you or your child, contact us for a consultation today!

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