The Digeridoo and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Science has now proven the health benefits of playing the digeridoo. New evidence from Swiss-led research proves how the symptoms from sleep apnea and snoring are greatly improved with even just 20 minutes of practice a day.
What is sleep?
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do in your life. It helps you grow and repair, restores your immune system and helps consolidate your memories. And sleep is not just sleep – we continually move through different states of sleep throughout the night with each phase having a different purpose. Light sleep stages are followed by progressively deeper stages, then REM sleep. This stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is the state of sleep where we do our most intense and most vivid dreaming. In fact, our dreams can be so vivid that our body has to be paralysed in this phase of sleep, otherwise we would act them out.
Dreams are a source of creativity and inspiration among almost all cultures of the earth, but nowhere do they form more of a cultural cornerstone than in aboriginal Australia, where the relationship between dreaming and creation is profound.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a disorder where the upper airway repeatedly closes while you sleep, stopping you breathing. This is a serious condition that not only results in poor quality sleep but is associated with a significant number of physical and mental health conditions including heart disease, stroke and depression.
The upper airway is made of some hard structures like the roof of the mouth, and some soft structures like the back of the throat and the base of the tongue. Hard structures stay in place by themselves, but the soft structures are held in place by muscles. When you fall asleep, these muscles relax, which causes the airway to become narrower. This can cause airflow to become turbulent, which makes the soft airway structures vibrate giving the sound you hear in snoring. In some people, the airway muscles relax even further, and the airway can close entirely causing breathing to stop.
This means the body has to pull you back into a shallower state of sleep, so that your muscles regain their strength and pull open your airway so you can breathe again – which often restarts with a gasp or snort.
The state of sleep most affected is REM – because your muscles are completely paralysed in this intense dreaming phase. This means with OSA, as soon as you enter your REM dream phase, your airway may close, you stop breathing, and your body has to pull you back to the surface.
With OSA you may never dream.
The digeridoo is one of the oldest wooden wind instruments in the world and is played by the Aboriginal people of Australia, forming an integral part of indigenous music and culture. It is played by blowing air down the instrument in a way that causes the lips and throat to vibrate, which generates the sound. It also involves circular breathing, where air stored in the cheeks is blown out while simultaneously breathing in through the nose. Playing the digeridoo involves significant strengthening of the muscles in the upper airway.
The digeridoo experiment
A research experiment was carried out by Swiss scientists with a group who suffered from moderate sleep apnea, snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness. This group was split in two – half trained on the digeridoo for at least 20 minutes, five days a week for four months and the other half carried on as they were to act as a control.
After four months it was obvious that the digeridoo group had significantly less OSA, significantly less snoring and much reduced daytime sleepiness when compared to the control group. What is even better is that they even included the bed partners of the group and found that even the partners of the digeridoo group had improved sleep and reduced daytime sleepiness when compared with the control group. Because they weren’t being constantly woken up by their partner’s snoring!
This is all due to how the digeridoo strengthens your upper airway muscles, so they don’t weaken during sleep and cause your airway to collapse.
This means, a person can re-enter into their REM sleep phase, manage to remain there and re-discover dreaming with all its creative and cultural richness. The digeridoo, its music so often an expression of dreams and dreaming, is now proven to enable dreaming itself to take place.
The article itself can be read online at https://www.bmj.com/content/332/7536/266
The Better Sleep Clinic has a number of interesting articles on the subject of sleep which can be read for free at www.thebettersleepclinic.co.uk