AND THE WINNER IS: the…what? Australian culture appreciators will be gratified to hear the news that the didgeridoo – an indigenous instrument played by musicians for more than 1500 years  – can help prevent snoring.

At least that was the conclusion of the panel dedicated to bestowing the lighthearted Ig Nobel award. Panelists collected at Harvard University to hear findings from Milo Puhan from the University of Zurich. Puhan’s hypothesis: regular playing of the throaty, mysterious-sounding didgeridoo can decrease snoring, particularly in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients.

According to Puhan, “regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep [apnea] and snoring” – good news for regular didgeridoo-playing cultural anthropologists everywhere.

The Study

In order to isolate the hypothesis and interpret the findings, twenty-five OSA sufferers were separated into two groups. One group was instructed to regularly play the didgeridoo, while the other was instructed not to play.

According to the researchers, after four months, the musicians suffered less daytime sleepiness and displayed fewer OSA symptoms than the non-instrument-playing group.

The project was spearheaded by didgeridoo teacher Alex Suarez, based at the time of the study in the Zurich Oberland.

The Mechanism

According to researchers, regular playing of the wind instrument strengthened muscles in the mouth and throat. The toned muscles were theorized to stay open more adequately at night so that air could more easily get into and back out of the lungs, hence reducing snoring.

Muscles in the upper airway tend to be laxer in OSA sufferers, they pointed out.

A Method to Their Madness

Puhan told reporters that receiving the semi-humorous Ig Noble was appropriate “because that’s exactly what happens when you launch a scientific project. [You come up with] an observation or hypothesis which at first seems hardly credible and makes you laugh,” he told reporters. “Then, after a time, you ask yourself if perhaps there’s something in it.”

The study dates to 2005 but was only recognized this year. It is not the first time a connection has been made between singing (or other breath-control activities) and a reduction in snoring symptoms.

The Ig Noble recognizes “achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think,” according to its website.

 

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