“The dropping of the larynx for speech, the shrinking of the oral cavity, and placement of the back of the tongue adjacent to the airway, combined with the modern lack of tough chewing by children, modify the development of the entire lower part of the skull and the jaw in ways that allow the back of the tongue to spill into the airway and partially restrict it.” - Jaws, Paul R. Ehrlich and Sandra Kahn
You've probably seen the ads on social media for Hostage Tape, Jawzrsize, or any one of these new products that claim to cure sleep apnea by changing the airflow of your nighttime breathing from your mouth to your nose. Let's dive a little deeper into what's true and what's false.
Let's start with a quick recap of how we got here, using the books Jaws and Breath to distill the information down to a few key points:
“There has been a dramatic reduction in the size of the face and jaws wherever humans have made the transition from foraging to farming.”
"After hundreds of thousands of years, the wide adoption of cooking had reduced the need for the long jaws and intense chewing that were required to extract nutrients from raw food."
“The mechanical forces generated by chewing food not only help your jaws grow to the right size and shape, they also help your teeth fit properly within the jaw.”
Essentially, since the agricultural revolution, and exponentially so in the past century, we have traded a paleo-lithic diet of hard foods that required ample chewing for processed soft foods. This has ham-stringed our facial-oral development through underuse, leading to sunken faces, crowed mouths, and mouthbreathing.
"Blockage of the nose at an early age is frequently due not just to regular colds but, according to the “hygiene hypothesis,” also due to living in enclosed, allergen-rich spaces, while not having immune systems well “trained” by close contact with farm animals, infections, and “dirt” early in life."
We are living in an increasingly polluted world; both outside with the pollutants from industrial processes plus the tendency to be indoors most hours of the day. This leads to people, especially children, getting stuffy noses and beginning to mouth breathe.
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"A common cause is problematic oral-facial development resulting in a jaw too small for the tongue to rest comfortably inside its confines; in these cases, the back of the tongue may fall into the throat, interrupting airflow."
In the speechless chimp on the left, the tongue rests completely with in the jaw with its back far from where air must pass to the lungs. As a consequence of acquiring speech, the back of the tongue easily can impinge on the airway, making humans, on the right, more vulnerable to OSA.
Basically, when we begin mouth breathing as an unconscious compensation mechanism, we run the risk of our tongue blocking our airway.
Video: Sleep apnea's negative effect on male testosterone production and female estrogen production.
Most of us are familiar with CPAPs (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines); they do not breathe for you, instead they make sure that you airway doesn't collapse.
It's important to note that while CPAP machines adjust the airflow going into your system, they don't necessarily teach you how to breathe properly.
It can be hard to build the habit of breathing through your nose at night: having a crutch at first can help jumpstart automatic nasal breathing during the night. Remember that the more you force yourself to breathe through your nose, the easier it will become.
When you can, use behavioral solutions to develop a solution that works no matter what. Learn Deep Belly Breathing to prime your subconscious towards nasal breathing now.