Playing a Bassoon Protects Against Sleep Apnea
SEATTLE, June 10 -- Compared with other members of an orchestra, musicians who played a high-resistance woodwind instrument were less likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea, researchers found.
In a study of 901 professional musicians, the woodwind players also had a lower risk of apnea than did singers or conductors, according to Christopher P. Ward, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, who reported the findings at the meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies here.
High-resistance woodwind instruments are those in the double-reed category, such as oboes, English horns, and bassoons.
The protective effect was only observed in those musicians who practiced an average of three hours a day, Dr. Ward said.
A musician himself -- he plays the trumpet and once served as interim band conductor at a college where he was teaching -- Dr. Ward said he did not know the exact mechanism that protects double-reed musicians.
Based on results of this study, Dr. Ward theorized that training sleep apnea patients to play double-reed instruments could be therapeutic.
However, Dr. Ward acknowledged that novices were unlikely to rapidly develop the needed embouchure -- the movement of facial muscles and placement of lip and tongue that allow music to be played on a wind instrument -- to sustain at least three hours of practice every day.
Dennis Nicholson, M.D., of the Sleep Disorders Center of Pomona Valley Hospital in Pomona, Calif., said it was possible that the embouchure specific to the double-reed instrument has characteristics that would help sleep apnea patients.
"This is a continuation of some previous literature that suggested that muscle training can improve sleep apnea, at least in some patients," said Dr. Nicholson, who was not involved in the study.
According to Dr. Nicholson, previous studies of musicians and obstructive sleep apnea revealed varying results among those who played wind instruments.
Dr. Nicholson suggested that a useful target for study would be identification of the specific muscle groups that are involved in playing a double-reed instrument so that patients could be trained in exercises using those muscles.
That, he said, would be a more practical application than attempting to teach patients to play double-reed instruments.
And, while Dr. Nicholson said he believes the finding deserves further study, he cautioned that the analysis was based on self-reported data as to practice time and apnea diagnosis.
Dr. Ward and colleagues followed 901 professional musicians. In the group overall, 41 (4.6%) reported an obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis and 29.2% were at high risk for it.
There was no statistically significant difference between instrumentalists, of whom 29.1% were at high risk, and noninstrumentalists -- conductors and singers -- of whom 33.3% were at high risk.
When the investigators analyzed the risk of apnea according to instrument type, the rate of high risk for those who played high-resistance woodwinds was significantly lower than it was for noninstrumentalists and for other instrumentalists (P=0.049).