Learning to Breathe Again: 6 Benefits of Nasal Breathing Day and Night
Humans breathe from birth, automatically, whether we’re awake or asleep.
As babies, it’s our first and most basic motor function. But as we get older, just as we can cultivate unhealthy eating habits, poor posture and problems sleeping, many of us develop breathing patterns that are dysfunctional or ‘diseased’.
Dysfunctional breathing is a modern affliction, closely linked with stress and lifestyle. And it’s having a serious impact on our health.
What is Dysfunctional Breathing?
Healthy breathing is through the nose, from the diaphragm, light, slow and deep.
When breathing becomes habitually or chronically unhealthy, it is often through an open mouth, fast, hard and into the upper chest.
Fast breathing that involves taking in too much air is called chronic hyperventilation. It disrupts the chemistry of the blood as carbon dioxide levels drop, prevents proper oxygen uptake and contributes to panic disorder, cardiovascular disease, PMS, exercise-induced asthma and many common debilitating conditions.
Mouth breathing is generally the result of a blocked or congested nose, which is something BoomBoom's nasal inhalers can help with :)
But it’s also self-perpetuating. The more you breathe through an open mouth, the more nasal stuffiness you’ll experience.
You’ll also regularly feel breathless, causing you to open your mouth to try to get more air. If your nose is blocked, breathing through your nostrils will actually help clear your airways.
If you can breathe through your nose for one minute, you can do so for life.
6 Important Health Benefits of Nasal Breathing
1. Better Breathing Equals Better Brain Power
When you breathe through your nose, air is warmed, filtered and humidified as it enters the body.
This helps keep the airways healthy and reduces dehydration and airway irritation.
The nose also provides about 50% more resistance to the breath, both on inhalation and exhalation. It engages the diaphragm, calming the mind. The extra resistance also improves gas exchange, which means our lungs are able to extract more oxygen from the air we breathe.
In fact, nose breathing improves oxygen uptake in the blood by 10-20%, resulting in better oxygenation of the cells and organs including the brain.
Breathing only through your nose improves the quality of inhaled air, your body’s ability to extract oxygen from that air and the function of your brain.
A calm mind and a well-oxygenated brain mean you can think more clearly.
2. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Mouth breathing tends to be fast, upper chest breathing.
This type of breathing is synonymous with stress and anxiety.
The low levels of blood carbon dioxide that come from habitually breathing too much air can even trigger panic attacks. While poor breathing is often the result of stress, it can also cause it.
There’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario here because different feedback loops exist within the body.
If your breathing is unhealthy, the brain receives signals telling it that the body is in danger, and your fight, flight or freeze response activates.
Alicia E. Meuret, who is a psychologist and panic disorder expert at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, teaches her patients breathing exercises to reverse over-breathing and restore blood carbon dioxide towards normal levels.
In an interview with Science News, she explained: “It's the therapeutic change in carbon dioxide that changes the panic symptoms – and not vice versa.”
In other words, stress is not just in your head. When we reduce the volume of air we breathe by inhaling and exhaling through the nose, we normalize the balance of vital systems in the body that play an important role in preventing panic attacks and anxiety.
3. Improves Sleep Quality
Nasal breathing reduces the volume of air you breathe at night.
This helps prevent snoring and lessens the severity of sleep apnea symptoms.
Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea occur because the airway collapses under pressure during sleep. Nose breathing actually helps keep the airway dilated, which means better lung volume and less risk of collapse.
Nasal breathing is also important for moderating stress and anxiety.
Slow, deep breathing activates the vagus nerve-driven relaxation response, while fast, upper chest mouth breathing triggers stress. An ‘always on’ stress response leads to hyper-arousal, which can cause insomnia.
Sleep disorders and sleep disordered breathing cause daytime fatigue and poor health.
Sleep apnea is a significant risk factor in road traffic accidents, and it’s linked with diseases from sexual dysfunction to sudden cardiac death. Sleep, breathing and wellbeing are all closely connected.
Restoring nasal breathing at night is absolutely fundamental if you want to stay well.
4. Boosts Endurance and Sports Performance
Because nasal breathing is 22% more efficient (Dallam, 2018) and produces better oxygenation of the muscles and organs, once you are accustomed to exercising using nasally-restricted breathing you will be able to keep going for longer before you experience breathlessness.
As the breathing muscles tire, blood is diverted from your legs forcing you to slow down or stop, so more efficient, less effortful breathing equals greater endurance.
Nasal breathing engages the diaphragm; an important muscle for spinal and core stability. When diaphragm function is good, movement is supported and there’s less risk of injury.
Breathing only through your nose also protects your airways against irritation and trauma.
It prevents exercise-induced asthma and bronchoconstriction, reducing the frequency and severity of respiratory symptoms that impact training and competition for many athletes.
5. Protects Against Inhaled Toxins, Allergens and Viruses
According to a recent scientific review from Martel et al., nose breathing could help lower the frequency and severity of respiratory infections including COVID-19!
And mouth taping to ensure nose breathing during sleep reduces incidence of the common cold and lessens its viral load.
This is because nasal breathing harnesses the gas nitric oxide, which is produced in large quantities in the sinuses around the nose.
Nitric oxide has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-allergen properties and acts as a first line of immune defense in the nasal airway.
Laboratory tests have found that it inhibits viral replication of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
For those of you naturally apprehensive about taping your mouth during sleep, there are options available like MyoTape which surround the mouth and brings the lips together to help ensure nasal breathing.
6. Supports Healthy Development for your Kids
Last but by no means least, if you have children you should know that mouth breathing during childhood is very problematic and shouldn’t be ignored.
If your child regularly breathes through an open mouth or snores at night, the result will be developmental problems, physically, cognitively and even in terms of behavior.
If you notice your child breathing through an open mouth, you can practice breathing exercises to restore nose breathing.
For children aged 4 years and over, you can use mouth tape (we suggest MYOTAPE) to gently correct habitual mouth breathing.
Exercise to Unblock the Nose
Try this exercise to clear your nasal airway so you can begin to restore healthy nose breathing:
- Sit upright in a chair
- Breathe calmly and normally. Take a small, light breath in through your nose, and a small breath out through your nose. If you are unable to inhale through your nose, take a tiny breath in through the corner of your mouth
- After the exhalation, pinch your nose and hold your breath. Keep your lips closed
- Gently begin nodding your head or rocking your body. Do this until you feel a relatively strong need for air, like you can’t hold your breath any longer
- Let go of your nose and breathe in gently through the nostrils. Try to avoid taking a deep breath when you first breathe in. Keep your breathing calm and relaxed
- Repeat the exercise until you can breathe easily through your nose. You may need to practice this exercise five or six times. Wait one minute between repetitions for the breathing to normalize
This article was written by Patrick McKeown, Breathing Instructor and author of The Oxygen Advantage®
Patrick McKeown is an internationally recognized authority on the Buteyko Method and on breathing techniques for health and optimum performance. Accredited by the late Dr. Konstantin Buteyko in 2002, he is Clinical Director of Buteyko Clinic, inventor and master instructor of the Oxygen Advantage® and author of the bestselling book The Oxygen Advantage: The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You. Patrick has helped thousands of women, men and children improve their sleep, health, and cognitive and sporting abilities using techniques to restore functional breathing. He has trained hundreds of breathing instructors worldwide.
What is the Buteyko Method (and how can it help)?
The Buteyko Method is a breathing re-education program that uses exercises to decongest the nose, restore full-time nasal breathing and reinstate functional breathing patterns. Progress is measured using a breath hold test called the Control Pause.
The method is direct and gentle, but despite the progressive, easy nature of the exercises, students experience improvements to their breathing within a few days. These include deeper sleep, reduced asthma and nasal congestion, easier breathing, more energy and increased feelings of calm.
The Buteyko Method first arrived in the UK and Australia from Russia in the early 90s. It was initially popular with adults and children with asthma but has since been found effective in helping with numerous health problems including rhinitis, hay fever, anxiety, panic attacks, chronic stress, sleep-disordered breathing and childhood development.
Visit ButeykoClinic.com for more details.
For information about mouth taping using MYOTAPE see myotape.com.