How The Way You Breathe Affects Your Sleep

Do you struggle to get off to sleep, have a disturbed sleep or wake in the morning never feeling rested?

Have you tried different pillows and mattresses, changed a few things about what you do before you go to bed and you’re still struggling?

Have you ever considered that how you breathe could be impacting the quality of your sleep?

In this interview, Tracey Howes explains how the way you breathe can affect your quality of sleep.

An image of the opening slide to this video the title is an interview with Tracey Howes Functional Brethwork Instructor, How The Way You Breathe Affects Your Sleep written in white on a pale orange background on the left with a diagonal divider and an image on the right of a couple asleep in bed. You can only see their heads as they are lying on their side both facing the camera with one hand under their heads. Their eyes are closed as well as their mouths looking realxed in their sleep. The pillow you can see is white and the wall above their heads is white too.
Play Video about An image of the opening slide to this video the title is an interview with Tracey Howes Functional Brethwork Instructor, How The Way You Breathe Affects Your Sleep written in white on a pale orange background on the left with a diagonal divider and an image on the right of a couple asleep in bed. You can only see their heads as they are lying on their side both facing the camera with one hand under their heads. Their eyes are closed as well as their mouths looking realxed in their sleep. The pillow you can see is white and the wall above their heads is white too.

How does nasal breathing help sleeping issues?

In summary nasal breathing:

  • The nose has antibacterial properties, purifying and warming the air before it enters the lungs reducing the chance of congestion.
  • Nitric oxide is produced only when you breathe through your nose.  Nitric Oxide helps to dilate your blood vessel, so you absorb 20% more oxygen.
  • More oxygen makes your body more efficient and puts less strain on the heart.
  • Slowing down the breath helps the body transition into the sleep cycle.
  • Breathing through the nose with the mouth closed stops the tongue from dropping to the back of the throat, the main cause of snoring and sleep apnea.
  • Specialist tape helps correct mouth breathing at night.
  • Learning how to breathe in a better way takes from 90 seconds a day.

Blue light, room temperature, sound, light, stress and a late evening meal can also impact the quality of your sleep.

What Is Discussed In This Video With Tracey Howes?

Hedshot of Tracey Howes Functional Breathwork Instructor She is smiling looking straight at the camera. You can jsut see the straps of her green top. Behind her is the sea, calm with only gentle ripples on the surface

Tracey Howes is a functional breathwork instructor (an Oxygen Advantage Instructor) and freediver based on the south coast of England.

How does a Functional Breathwork Instructor help?

A functional breathwork instructor helps to improve two things. Firstly blood chemistry, how oxygen and carbon dioxide interact in the blood and secondly the biomechanics of the body, how our respiratory muscles move. Teaching and encouraging people to relearn to breathe.

The ideal form of functional breathing is light, slow and deep using the nose with the diaphragm with a gentle pause after the exhale.

What Factors Can Impact The Quality Of Our Sleep?

When we think of breathing and sleep, often the first thing that comes to mind is snoring. This is really all about airflow through the airways, and if you imagine a large volume of air passing through a very narrow space, this causes the nose and the throat to vibrate, essentially that’s snoring.

The Impact Of Screen Time:

Close-up of a person sat up in the dark. They look like they are propped up in bed by the posture. They are holding their mobile phone in their hands and clearing doing something on it. The background is pitch black but they have a blue glow over them from the light of the phone.

We are often in front of screens late at night and the blue light from I-pads, computers, phones etc. triggers a signal in the brain that it’s still daylight. So the brain almost wakes up and starts becoming a lot more active when actually our circadian rhythm, wants it to start to slow down ready for sleep.

You can get orange-tinted glasses specifically for blocking out the blue light from screens, which will help reduce that impact on the brain. Human beings are just extremely sensitive to light exposure and more so than we probably think.

So reducing screen time is really important. General advice is to avoid screens or blue light up to two hours before you go to sleep.

Other Factors That Cause Poor Sleep:

  • Raised levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) in the body at night, a racing mind, higher heart rate, all of these contribute to preventing us from getting into our sleep cycle and actually having a restorative night’s sleep
  • Room temperature It should be around 16-18°C on average. You want that room to be cool because once you’re under the duvet and the body starts to go into the sleep state if it’s too warm you won’t be able to get into that sleep cycle
  • Light and sound – Some individuals are very sensitive when we say light sleepers. Some simple solutions could be having ear plugs, blackout blinds, or an eye patch if that helps.
  • Digestion – It takes on average three hours for food to digest, so you don’t want to be eating a big meal just before you go to bed. Don’t give the body more reason to stay awake just before you go, try to fall asleep.

Why is nose breathing so important when it comes to our sleep?

Our mouths were never meant for breathing, they are for eating and drinking, speaking and for short spurts of high-intensity sport. The nose is very unique, and it can be compared to the gut in that it has its own microbiome, has the ability to purify and has antibacterial qualities as well as warming the air before it goes into the lungs. The mouth doesn’t have any of those facilities.

Also, we have a molecule called nitric oxide which is only produced in the sinus cavity. This molecule, along with carbon dioxide, is a vasodilator. It gently opens the blood vessels to allow more oxygen-rich blood to get to the lungs. And that’s really important because again it’s not produced in the mouth.

For sleep in particular, being able to slow down our breathing rate before bed is very important. It moves the body from the typical fight or flight active state into the parasympathetic rest and digest state. You almost need a few moments to just get the body into the right state before it moves into the sleep cycle.

That’s what correct functional breathing can help with:

calm the mind, reduce the heart rate and prepare the body for sleep.

Can Breathwork Help Snoring, Sleep Apnea & Insomnia?

Nasal breathing is really key if people are suffering from insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea. You can literally eliminate these problems with correct nasal breathing i.e. with the mouth closed.

It can take practice, if you’ve been a mouth breather all your life, changing to breathe through your nose is essentially re-teaching the body and the respiratory muscles to perform differently. But the long-term effect is worth it because when the breathing muscles are working in the right way, it takes pressure off the cardiac muscle and this is particularly important with sleep apnea.

A mature lady with short grey hair, weaing a long sleeved grey top is in bed lying on her right side with both hands under her head. She is awake looking towards the clock on her bedside table and looks dispondant. In the foreground you can just see part of the white bedside table with her glasses on it and a rectangular clock with green boarder and green numbers. The time saya 7 minutes past 2. The bedding is white and the headboard white and greyish blue stripes.

People sadly have passed away in their sleep because they haven’t been able to breathe and the heart hasn’t been able to cope. It’s an issue that actually gets worse with age for men and women, particularly if women are going into menopause. When progesterone levels dip it affects the quality of the upper airway muscles, which can cause poor sleep habits even if you’ve never had issues before.

Preventative measures, learning to breathe correctly not just during the day but also at night can literally save lives and help the body perform optimally.

The Importance Of Tongue Position For Snoring And Sleep Apena

Lady asleep in bed sleeping with a Sleep Apnea mask on. She is lying on her right side facing the camera and the mask is over her mouth and nose with the strap around her forehead and jaw line to the back of her head to hold it in place. At the very front left of the image you can see the top of the air pump with the hose coming out of the top. The bedding is a greeny grey with a dark wood headboard.

It’s really important to mention tongue positioning as well when we talk about sleep. The ideal positioning is the tongue resting on the roof of your mouth day and night. If you’re sleeping with your mouth open the tongue is going to fall back into the throat which can cause sleep apnea because it blocks the air tracked completely.

By re-learning to breathe correctly through the nose with the mouth closed, the tongue position will change, a very important part of re-establishing correct breathing habits at night.

With snoring, when you breathe through your nose, mouth snoring will stop and nose snoring will stop when you unblock your nose and correct your breathing patterns to normal.

If I Sleep With My Mouth Open, How Can I Correct My Breathing When I'm Asleep?

There’s no tablet you can take to stop snoring or sleep apnea. The only proven cure through scientific testing has been changing to correct functional breathing: light, slow, deep, through the nose, using the diaphragm 24 hours a day. But at night when you’re sleeping you’re not aware of how you’re breathing. Whilst there are exercises you can do during the day to train the body into breathing through the nose, there is a product that is essential to helping that process at night – Myotape.

Myotape is a very simple preventative measure to assist with nasal breathing at night. The tape sits around the outside of the mouth and it gently pushes the lips together forcing the body to breathe through the nose, without sealing the mouth. So you can still talk or have a sip of water.

Myotape essentially retrains the facial muscles and the body to breathe through the nose. Combining the tape with the active practice of functional breathing through the nose together can really help eliminate sleep apnea. It can even help with waking up in the middle of the night and getting back to sleep, helping you to get back into that sleep cycle.

Photo of a packet of Myotape on an oat bedsheet with cream tree outlines on it. The packet of Myotape is mainly blue with a photo of a couple in bed asleep both wearing myotape around their mouths. At the bottom of the packet is says Safe Sleep Science. Lying on top of the packet is a sheet of 6 Myotape strips. Ech one is an orange rectangle with a smaller rectangular shape cut out of the middle. There are small illustrations of lips and Zzzz... in black on them too.

If you are interested, here is a link where you can get hold of the Myotape:

Where Can I Find Out About The Exercises And How Much Time Does It Take Up?

The exercises are widely available through the Oxygen Advantage, which is the certification program Tracey has worked with, but it really makes a difference when you’ve got someone who can work with you personally or in a small group so you may want to find an instructor that can create a plan best suited for your specific needs.

The main focus really is how to incorporate these exercises into your day-to-day life. Some people allocate 15 minutes a day and do them, but for the vast majority, it’s about incorporating light, slow, deep breathing techniques in your daily routine. Whether it’s during exercise when you’re driving or making a cup of tea.

You can literally take 90 seconds and calm your breath down. Just breathing slowly in and out through the nose, preferably with a longer exhale, will immediately reset the nervous system. Remember we’re working with muscles and muscles can be trained so breathing habits can be changed too with a little practice.

So if this information has meant that you are curious to find out more about Tracey Howes and her course options you can find out more from any of the means below

Tracey Offers:

Taster sessions which are 60 minutes on zoom once a month.

3 week programme working in small groups.

She also does corporate work, wellness retreats, health and wellbeing festivals and works with other healthcare practitioners.

Other Interviews With Tracey Howes

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