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Hi, my name is Addie and I’m a mouth breather.
You know – one of those people whose mouth always looks slightly agape and sucking in air. One of those people who is afraid to fall asleep on airplanes or in public places for fear of drooling on myself. One of those people who climbs into bed every night with a full glass of water to remedy the cottonmouth that wakes me up throughout my slumber. One of those people who has to stop and take a breathing break mid-conversation because who can possibly be expected to talk and breathe at the same time? Not this girl.
I’ve always assumed it was something that I couldn’t help. A feature that while slightly inconvenient and possibly made me an unattractive sleeper, was nothing more than a superficial flaw. However, as I started to do more research into the implications of such a faulty breathing technique I noticed a pattern. Inefficient breathing can lead to things like poor sleep quality, anxiety, and a long list of other health problems. I’m a self-proclaimed “terrible sleeper” and have dealt with anxiety for much of my adult life. Could it be possible that I wasn’t plagued with being a mouth breather AND an anxious person, but that instead, I’m an anxious person BECAUSE I’m a mouth breather? I don’t know, but I decided it was something worth exploring.
More and more information and research is becoming available about the health differences between breathing through your nose and through your mouth. While breathing is something that we have done for our entire human existence, over time we have lost contact with the way our bodies were designed to most effectively perform this simple yet crucial act. This topic is an extensive one, but hopefully, this article will provide you with some compelling reasons to consider closing your mouth and letting your nose do its job.
Implications of Mouth Breathing
Just because you may not experience the same consequences of inefficient breathing that I do doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the clear. Many people suffer from things like fatigue, irritability, snoring, difficulty focusing and increased negative effects from things like allergies and asthma. In short – the way you breathe, matters. On average, humans take about 20,000 breaths per day. It’s a completely unconscious, automatic and involuntary process. But, how you breathe is something that you can control yet remains something that most of us fail to even think about.
Breathing through your mouth versus your nose typically results in quicker, more shallow breathing. Not only is that not an efficient way for your body to operate, but it also leads to a stressed-out nervous system. An overactive sympathetic nervous system results in impaired recovery, lower heart rate variability, and potentially burnout. Breathing is one of the most effective ways to control the knob on your stress response and ensure that your body is able to rest and relax when it needs to.
Why Nasal Breathing?
Your nasal passages are a built-in filtration system for respiratory function. It’s a system designed to pull out harmful pollutants and slightly warm each inhalation to deliver cleaner, more usable air to the lungs. Research has shown that inhaling through your nose is much more effective at delivering oxygen to active tissues. When you breathe through your nose, nitric oxide is released which creates more CO2 in the blood. This CO2 is ultimately what releases oxygen to working muscles. When you breathe through your mouth, CO2 levels are lower and deliver less of the much-needed oxygen to your working body. The lower levels of CO2 can also cause quicker, less efficient breathing or even hyperventilation. So, when you see runners adorned with those, arguably unflattering, Breathe Right strips, they are on to something!
How to Make the Change
Many of us have likely been unknowingly breathing this way for many, many years. So, it’s not a habit that is going to be corrected overnight. However, some small changes can help make nasal breathing more comfortable and more natural with a drastic positive impact on your mental and physical health. First, begin by just being more aware of your breathing throughout the day. Simply paying attention to how you are breathing allows you to make adjustments when you find yourself engaging in bad habits. When you’re sleeping is one of the most important times to engage in rejuvenating nasal breathing. If you need a little assistance, I suggest enlisting some help from one of the various nose strip products. I’m willing to bet you’ll see a drastic improvement in your quality of sleep in a matter of days. Lastly, consider adding sessions of guided breathing into your day. You’ll get the benefits of a period of relaxation and parasympathetic activity, but it will also help you continue to build better breathing habits that will carry over into the rest of your day.
If you’re not paying attention to how you breathe, you should be. It’s easy to treat inhales and exhales as something that your body intuitively knows how to do, therefore requiring very little effort from you. However, small changes and tweaks in how you breathe can have drastic effects on your daily life.
Addie is a professional ultra trail runner, coach, and sport psychology consultant helping athletes of all ages and abilities to prepare for the mental demands of competing through her practice, Strive Mental Performance.