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Can the didgeridoo cure sleep apnea? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Can the didgeridoo cure sleep apnea?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A group of Vermonters is ditching the doctor's office and medicine to treat sleep apnea. People suffering from the disorder have found a new way to help their breathing and, in turn, help them sleep better.

This is not your average therapy session. Traditional medicine has given way to the didgeridoo, a 40,000-year-old instrument originating from Australia.

Ellie Kenworthy suffers from sleep apnea, and she's one of many people at the Vermont Naturopathic Clinic in Burlington using an old instrument to give her a new way to get some shut-eye.

"I've been sleeping really well and I think the others in the class acknowledge that too because there is something therapeutic maybe about the breathing," Kenworthy said of playing her new didgeridoo.

People with sleep apnea have trouble breathing at night while they sleep. As muscles in their throats collapse, their brains lose oxygen.

Michael Stadtmauer is a naturopathic physician who focuses on natural medicine for treatment and prevention of disease. Stadtmauer says he has several patients use the class as a therapy for their apnea.

"There have been a number of interesting studies published that show that playing didgeridoo helps to tone the muscles of the upper palate," Stadtmauer explained. "Once those muscles are toned, that results in a more expanded space for air to move."

Stadtmauer says the didgeridoo gives those suffering from sleep apnea a chance to work out muscles that are not often exercised.

"By playing the 'didge' and practicing very regularly by studies say over a number of months, you're able to create a situation where that is much less likely to collapse because those muscles have been toned," Stadtmauer explained.

Sleep apnea can result in high blood pressure, stroke or depression if not treated.

Pitz Quattrone has been teaching and playing didgeridoo for 20 years. He teaches the weekly class at Vermont Naturopathic Clinic in Burlington. The class is offered in three-week sessions. The breathing repetitions he teaches are what help those suffering from sleep apnea.

"Any amount of didgeridoo playing is gonna be beneficial to your health... in some of the classes that I've run as short as three weeks, folks at the end of that three-week period are telling me that they can breathe easier," Quattrone said.

The basic 'didge' noise is called a drone-- a low sound produced by flapping the lips. Repeated playing of the didgeridoo allows the throat muscles to relax. The British Medical Journal released a study that concluded practicing five days per week for 30 minutes a day would strengthen the muscles enough to significantly alleviate apnea's effects.

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