Myofunctional therapy is an exercise training program for the muscles around your face, mouth, and tongue. These exercises are designed to improve issues with talking, eating, or breathing.

Research has found that myofunctional therapy may also be an effective treatment for sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep-disordered breathing is a group of sleep conditions that cause a reduction in airflow through your upper airways. It includes heavy snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.

Myofunctional therapy treatment is safe and relatively inexpensive, which makes it an attractive alternative to other treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or surgery.

In this article, we take a deeper look at myofunctional therapy including how it helps sleep apnea, what therapy consists of, and how it works.

Myofunctional therapy is an exercise program that helps treat orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs). OMDs are abnormal movement patterns of your face or mouth. They can be caused by:

  • blocked nasal passages
  • anything that causes a misplaced tongue position
  • sucking and chewing habits past the age of 3

Myofunctional therapy uses neuromuscular re-education exercises to help normalize face and mouth structures. These exercises teach your muscles, nerves, and brain how to restore optimal movement. Specifically, they aim to improve:

  • tongue position
  • lip seal
  • nasal breathing

There’s evidence that myofunctional therapy may help:

There’s some evidence that myofunctional therapy, together with surgery, can help treat the symptoms associated with tongue-tie. There’s also some weak evidence that it can help treat temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles that support the soft tissue in your throat relax and close off your airway while you’re sleeping.

Myofunctional therapy aims to improve the function of muscles in the upper airway and help keep your airways open. It may also help reposition your tongue and improve nasal breathing to keep the airways clear.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is often the first treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea. This treatment uses a hose and mask to deliver consistent air pressure while you’re sleeping. It can be effective, but about half of people stop using CPAP treatment over time.

A small 2017 study found that adding myofunctional therapy to CPAP helped people stick with the treatment.

Myofunctional therapy is like physical therapy for your face. This type of therapy is provided by a healthcare professional with a certification in myofunctional training from the International Association of Orofacial Myology.

Your myofunctional therapist will evaluate you and create a custom treatment plan to retrain your muscles and improve your function. Your plan will consist of various exercises to help ease the symptoms of your condition.

A wide variety of myofunctional exercises are available. One 2020 study even had participants play the didgeridoo, an Australian musical instrument, for 4 months to treat snoring and sleep apnea.

Examples of exercises your therapist may have you perform include:

  • Tongue touches. Push the tip of your tongue against your hard palate and slide your tongue backward 20 times.
  • Tongue presses. Suck your tongue upward against your palate, pressing your entire tongue against your palate 20 times.
  • Teeth touches. Force the back of your tongue against the roof of your mouth while keeping the tip in contact with your bottom front teeth 20 times.
  • Uvula raises. Elevate your soft palate and uvula while saying the vowel “A” 20 times.
  • Balloon inflation. Blow up a balloon by taking 5 large breaths through your nose and exhaling into the balloon as much as you can.
  • Yogurt suction. Your therapist may have you suck yogurt through a narrow straw.
  • Party horn. Your therapist could have you exercise by blowing through a party horn.

Researchers are continuing to examine the potential benefits of myofunctional therapy for many different OMDs. So far, researchers have found the strongest evidence that myofunctional therapy can treat sleep-disordered breathing conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea or snoring.

A 2021 review of studies found strong evidence that myofunctional therapy has a positive effect on reducing sleep apnea. The researchers classified the level of evidence as “1a,” according to the Oxford Center for Evidence-Based Medicine 2011 guidelines. 1a means that it has the highest level of evidence.

The researchers also found level 1a evidence that myofunctional therapy improves snoring as well as self-reported daytime sleepiness and quality of life in people with sleep-disordered breathing.

A 2015 review of studies found that myofunctional therapy decreased obstructive sleep apnea symptoms by approximately 50 percent in adults and 62 percent in children.

Myofunctional therapy is an exercise program that trains the muscles around your face, tongue, and mouth. Research suggests that it may be especially helpful for reducing sleep apnea, snoring, and other conditions affecting your mouth or throat.

Your treatment may consist of many different exercises to strengthen your muscles. A myofunctional therapist can help you develop a treatment program for your specific condition.