Since about the age of fourteen I have had a clicking jaw, also known as TMD (Temporomandibular disorders). This disorder occurs as a result of problems with the jaw, jaw joint (or TMJ), and surrounding facial muscles. No one ever connected the two, but I think that the onset could have been triggered the night I broke a molar in half from deliberately crunching down on a popcorn kernel.
Featured image credit: irscanada.ca
For the last thirty years, I have been living with a consistent and quite uncomfortable ache in my right jaw. Until today!
What changed? Well, as embarrassing as it is to admit, it was my snoring. Yes, you read that correctly. Snoring. I snore. Well, I did. I don’t anymore, and I will explain how I stopped…in ONE day!
My husband has always been a relatively light sleeper. And I wasn’t always a snorer. Over the last few years he would joke around with me and say that I had snored on occasion. But in the last six months my snoring had reached it’s peak! My husband was now sleeping with his head sandwiched between two huge square european pillows (the kind we use for propping us up while sitting in bed reading). He would wake me in the night by gently nudging me to get me to roll over…anything to stop the snoring! Of course, I would comply and other times I would ignore him (unintentionally of course, I was sleeping!).
It may have been a coincidence and who can ever say for sure, but in the last two years I had made some changes. I started orthodontic treatment and my body decided to stop sleeping with a pillow. Yes – my body decided. I didn’t consciously decide that I would no longer sleep with a pillow; I think that it had to do with all the body alignment work I was doing, and I maintain that it was my body that made the switch!
The braces are now off and I am wearing retainers 24/7 for a few more months, at which point I will only be required to wear them overnight (for the rest of my life to prevent my teeth from shifting back). I still sleep without a pillow, (intellectually and physically) I just can’t go back to using one.
Eventually, my snoring got so bad and my husband was so sleep deprived that we had to come up with a solution. I offered to go sleep in the basement or restructure our living quarters, but my husband didn’t like those options and would beg me to just go back to using a pillow. Finally, I asked him to record my snoring so that I could hear for myself. My husband has always been a great story teller and on occasion an embellisher…so, to my surprise, no, to my horror…there was not any fiction in his account. Take a listen. Keep in mind that the sounds you are about to hear were made by me: 43 year old female, standing 5’5″ weighing 118 pounds.
How is this possible? I sound like a father bear! Hearing myself was enough to launch immediate remediation. It didn’t take me more than a second to realize (from the sounds of it) that I am very unwell; clearly not getting enough oxygen during sleep and likely not experiencing necessary REM. I am a problem solver and boy was this going to be fun to fix!
That morning (it was Monday, March 9, 2015) when after sending the kids to school, I sat down to the computer and looked up how to stop snoring. Aside from explaining how to identify the cause in order to find a cure, the article outlined how to communicate with someone who snores and how to deal with complaints. I quickly jumped to the self-help section and noticed exercises for the throat. Very intriguing, which also reminded me of my friend Dr. Dana Colson’s book, which had a chapter on snoring and sleep apnea. In her book she describes some of these exercises but also recommends learning how to play the Didgeridoo as did this article. It is impossible to play the didgeridoo without properly balanced throat muscles. At the time of reading her book (three years ago) I immediately went out to buy a Didgeridoo, excited to learn it and teach my family. But because I wasn’t snoring at the time I let it go and focused my energy on other things.
On Monday, March 9, 2015, I started practicing the 5 suggested exercises from the how to stop snoring article.
Repeat each vowel (a-e-i-o-u) out loud for three minutes a few times a day.
Place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth. Slide your tongue backwards for 3 minutes a day.
Close your mouth and purse your lips. Hold for 30 seconds.
With mouth open, move jaw to the right and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on left side.
With mouth open, contract the muscle at the back of your throat repeatedly for 30 seconds. Tip: Look in the mirror to see the uvula (“the hanging ball”) move up and down.
From Dana Colson’s book following the diagram on page 64, I practiced her suggestions which included the self-massage of facial muscles and self-applied pressure on trigger points.
The next morning (Tuesday) my husband reported that I had NOT snored. OK maybe it was a fluke? That day, I practiced all the above exercises and also added Didgeridoo playing. Wednesday morning: my husband reported that I had NOT snored that night either. So far so good. I kept doing my exercises and now feeling encouraged, I searched for proper instruction on how to do the circular breathing required for playing the Didgeridoo. I settled on Sashi. The exercises were tiring for me, which confirm that the muscles of my mouth, jaw and throat have a lot of re-learning to do. I think the snoring pointed that out.
“The art of circular breathing, a technique that enables the wind instrumentalist to maintain an unbroken sound for long periods of time by inhaling through the nose while maintaining airflow through the instrument, using the cheeks as bellows.”1
Day Four (Thursday) morning: my husband gave me the most sincere gratitude hug and said: “Thank you! Thank you for working so hard at this. I am sleeping right through the night and feel so much better.”
It has now been one full week, and I am feeling so much better now that I am not struggling for oxygen while I sleep. There is also another plus to all this! My clicking jaw is not clicking anymore! I’m quite certain that the self-massage techniques outlined in Dr. Dana Colson’s book are to thank. I can open my mouth again, I feel like Steven Tyler. I know that I will have to include these exercises as part of my Daily Body Maintenance for the rest of my life. I look on that as a positive. It’s really nice to be more connected with oneself and to life as opposed to just rushing around and having others “fix” you with surgery or an appliance. Knowing that we have the tools to heal ourselves is human.
As a result of singing a-e-i-o-u, and wondering why these vowels are so effective, I found singer Alise Ojay who not long ago designed a singing treatment for snorers. Maybe all these years of not having confidence to sing was simply because I wasn’t exercising my singing muscles! Duh! Like with any muscle, if you don’t use it…
I find it so interesting that those of us who focus on health, fitness and body alignment somehow stop at the neck. Welcome to Daily Whole-Body Maintenance.