YJ Investigates: Can Singing Cure Sleep Apnea?

Season 2 of Big Little Lies contained a scene where a yoga class sang a song in Savasana to combat sleep apnea. Does it really work?
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Sleep apnea and singing

Still reeling from season 2 of Big Little Lies? Us too. Especially that scene where Bonnie Carlson, played by Zoë Kravitz, leads a yoga class of practitioners who are singing Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” in Savasana (Corpse Pose). They’re allegedly doing it to mitigate sleep apnea (which repeatedly halts breathing while sufferers sleep), Carlson admits to her father: “Stanford Sleep Clinic...diagnosed everyone in the class as a cash cow.”

Even if the apnea was fake, we wanted to know: Was there any truth in the treatment? So we turned to Rohit Budhiraja, MD, sleep medicine specialist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The verdict? He says Bonnie’s sing-along Savasana is just another in a trail of big little lies.

See also Find Your Own Authenticity By Singing For Inspiration.

There’s no real data to suggest that singing significantly improves snoring or sleep apnea, says Budhiraja, explaining that when we fall asleep, the muscles at the back of the throat relax and collapse upon one another, narrowing the airway. When air goes in and out of that tiny space, it makes an ungodly noise, and that’s snoring. Sometimes, the back of the throat completely closes up, and that’s sleep apnea. “There are a couple of studies suggesting that snoring may improve in people who sing regularly, but those are very low-quality studies,” Budhiraja says.

And when it comes to Corpse Pose, Budhiraja advises people with sleep apnea to avoid lying flat on their backs altogether—because gravity makes the tongue fall backward. The only tried-and-true path to improving sleep apnea, says Budhiraja, is the standard CPAP-mask treatment in conjunction with lifestyle changes such as cutting down on alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy weight: an excellent reminder not to believe everything you see on TV.