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Breathing retraining in sleep apnoea: a review of approaches and potential mechanisms



Anatomically based treatments for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) may not completely resolve OSA. This has led to interest in exploring ways of addressing physiological risk factors. This review examines the literature for research reporting on the effects of various types of breathing training and breathing activities on sleep apnoea. It also reviews and discusses proposed therapeutic mechanisms.


A search of electronic databases was performed using the search terms related to various breathing therapies or to activities requiring high levels of breath control such as singing and the playing of musical instruments and sleep apnoea.


A total of 14 suitable studies were reviewed. A diverse variety of breathing retraining approaches are reported to improve sleep apnoea, e.g., Buteyko method, inspiratory resistance training, and diaphragmatic breathing. There is also a reduced incidence of sleep apnoea with intensive and regular participation in activities that require high levels of breath control, e.g., singing and playing wind instruments. Improvements in sleep-disordered breathing are thought to be related to improvements in (1) muscle tone of the upper airway; (2) respiratory muscle strength; (3) neuroplasticity of breathing control; (4) oxygen levels; (5) hyperventilation/dysfunctional breathing; and (6) autonomic nervous system, metabolic, and inflammatory status.


Breathing retraining and regular practice of breath control activities such as singing and playing wind instruments are potentially helpful for sleep apnoea, particularly for individuals with minimal anatomical deficit and daytime breathing dysfunction. Research is needed to elucidate mechanisms, to inform patient selection, and to refine clinical protocols.

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Correspondence to Rosalba Courtney.

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Courtney, R. Breathing retraining in sleep apnoea: a review of approaches and potential mechanisms. Sleep Breath 24, 1315–1325 (2020).

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  • Sleep apnoea
  • Breathing retraining
  • Dysfunctional breathing