Did you know that the simple act of breathing through your nose can have an incredible impact on your rest and sleep?
The average person takes around 23,040 breaths per day. In fact, breathing is so natural to us that we don’t even think about when we do it, or how we do it. But the way we breathe can play a big role in our overall well-being and our sleep.
Most of us are prone to taking fast, shallow breaths, or may breathe through our mouth without even realising it. This can lead to breathlessness, congestion, snoring, and sleep apnea—all of which affect your ability to get a good sleep. According to breathing practitioner and author Patrick McKeown, nose breathing is one of the best natural ways to help you sleep, and improve your health and fitness.
How breathing affects sleep and well-being
Take a minute now to pay attention to how you’re breathing. Are you breathing through your mouth, or your nose? Are you taking fast, shallow breaths, or slow, deep breaths?
When we breathe through our mouth, we initiate short breaths from the upper chest, which causes most of our oxygen intake to go into the upper half of our lungs. However, because of gravity, more blood sits in the lower half of our lungs.
Breathing through our nose helps carry air to these lower regions, while also allowing us to utilise our diaphragm. Nasal breathing also helps to humidify and regulate the temperature of the air to prepare it for our lungs and throat, and cleans the air of bacteria, particles, viruses, and bugs.
The way we breathe can also have a big impact on our quality of sleep. Mouth breathing means our body gets less oxygen — causing frequent waking and increased occurrences of loud snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. This also puts our body in ‘fight or flight’ mode and increases our stress levels, leaving us more susceptible to sleep deprivation.
Tips and techniques to correct your breathing
So how do you know if you’re breathing correctly? The first step is to stop, slow down, and be aware of your breathing.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you breathe through an open mouth?
- Can you hear your breathing?
- Are you running out of air?
- Do you feel that you’re not getting enough breath?
- Do you have nasal congestion?
- Are you breathing fast?
- Are you breathing shallow?
- Are you constantly feeling tired, even after a full night of sleep?
If you answer yes to some of these questions, or just want to optimise your breathing, here are five simple techniques you can do to correct your breathing:
Regularly do breath hold exercises
Breath hold exercises are a great way to train yourself to breathe properly through your nose. When you have ten minutes, stop and do the following:
Sit and rest for 5 minutes with your mouth shut, and breathe in and out of your nose.
Grab a stopwatch or timer, then take a normal breath in through your nose, and allow a normal breath out through your nose.
After this, pinch your nose, and time the number of seconds it takes before you first feel the definite desire to breathe.
Release and breathe through your nose normally again. Wait a minute, and repeat up to 5 times.
Breathe slowly and consciously
The simple act of bringing your attention to breathing through your nose can increase your oxygen uptake and have an impact on your breath. Try to breathe as if you don’t breathe: When you inhale and exhale, imagine doing it so slowly and lightly that people can’t hear you, and the hairs on your nostrils don’t move.
Focus on breathing through your nose into your diaphragm
Put your hands on your lower two ribs. As you breathe in, focus on your ribs moving out, and as you breathe out, focus on your ribs moving inwards. This helps bring more oxygen into your lungs, especially if you’re exercising.
Try not to take large breaths in when yawning or talking
If you can hear your breathing when talking, try to adjust. Use shorter sentences, slow down your talking speed, and take gentle breaths through your nose between sentences. The same goes for yawning and sighing: avoid taking big breaths in when yawning, and try to swallow or suppress your sighs to avoid chronic over-breathing.
Try box breathing if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed
There’s no way around it: Sometimes we get stressed. Box breathing is a simple paced breathing technique designed to help reduce stress by regulating our breathing.
Any time you’re feeling stressed, try this pattern: exhale for 4 counts, hold your lungs empty for 4 counts, inhale for 4 counts, and hold the air in your lungs for 4 counts. Exhale and repeat.
Mouth breathing isn’t the only thing that can cause sleep apnea, snoring, and insomnia. Your diet, bedding, and sleep environment all matter when it comes to a good night’s rest. Breathe easy at night with a mattress that is approved by the National Asthma Council’s Sensitive Choice program. They provide long-term protection against mould, bacteria, dust mites and their allergens. For more tips on getting a better night’s sleep, try these five natural remedies for insomnia.