Posted on February 22, 2013 by Andy John

Check out my video on the didgeridoo if you haven’t already.  It’s an interview by Jamarcus Gaston from CW62 in Greenville.

The strangest gig I have ever played was demonstrating the didgeridoo to a group of 50-something folks with sleep apnea at the sleep center in Asheville.  The point of the exercise was to address the growing population of people who suffer from sleep apnea and possible treatments.  Sleep apnea is a condition that causes the person to wake several times throughout the night because the tissue in the back of the throat closes and prevents proper flow of air.  The doctor who hosted the workshop cited a study in 2005 about the didgeridoo as a possible treatment for moderate sleep apnea.  I have read a few papers and looked on Google Scholar and found almost 100 papers published on the treatment of sleep apnea with didgeridoo therapy. I also suspect that the diatonic harmonica would also be effective for treatment of sleep apnea.  The doctor who hosted the sleep center demonstration agreed.  “Bending” the notes on a diatonic harmonica (the cheap 10-hole kind) requires muscles in the back of the throat.  There are no studies on this so I can’t directly recommend it.  I have one harmonica student with sleep apnea so the jury is still out on my theory.  I’ll  let you know.

The current treatment for sleep apnea is using a mask that pumps oxygen into your mouth while you sleep.  This is a highly effective treatment but is very expensive and one student of mine said it made her feel like she was drowning and would wake up with nightmares.

I’m encouraged with the didgeridoo treatment idea.  If you suffer from sleep apnea I would suggest you talk with your doctor about the didgeridoo or voice training.  It’s not the quick fix that the CPAP mask is but it is a solution that is in your hands.  If you do decide to give the didgeridoo a try please remember that learning to play the didgeridoo takes work so expect the same requirements of learning how to play a violin, piano, or guitar BUT once you can do the basic circular breathing technique you have the skill you need to work the muscles responsible for the treatment.  This can take anywhere from three weeks to six months.  Look at my post on circular breathing for a quick how-to and then contact me if you think it’s right for you.  A few lessons and a 30 minute practice session every day for a couple months is required to get the skill to do it.  After that, you just have to do it and hopefully sleep soundly!  The study in the paper went for 4 months and proclaims good results!

Sleep Apnea and the didgeridoo