Why How You Breathe Affects How You Feel

brain function habits health mental health stress Jan 17, 2023

We all know breathing oxygen or air is essential for survival. Most of us don’t really think about breathing (unless its someone noisily breathing next to you on public transport). Breathing is obviously involuntary and can often be shallow or sometimes rapid mouth breathing throughout the day instead of nasal breathing.

Now you might not think this is an issue, but it really is!

We have 2 routes in which to get oxygen into our body. The nose, or the mouth. Mouth breathing can increase stress, asthma, anxiety, allergies, sleep apnea and mouth & gum problems to name a few. What we all should be doing is breathing through our nose. By doing this it can improve relaxation, improve circulation, reduce stress, and support the restorative part of our sleep.

“I’m pretty sure I breathe through my nose most of the day” I hear you say. 

But I can tell you with almost 100% certainty, that you don’t!

We all mouth-breathe, and its absolutely necessary on occasion. It’s usually when our body is in a state of stress. This could be emotional stress or physical, like you’ve just run your first 5 miles in a while and it’s been a little difficult shall we say. It could even be more physiological/medical reasons like a blocked nose or narrow nostrils.

But where possible, nose breathing is always the best option, and here’s why.

When you breathe via your nose, your nasal hair helps to filter out dust, allergens, pollen, and prevents other particles from getting into your lungs. Your nose also warms and moisturizes the air you breathe. This is really helpful so the outside air warms up to your body temperature inside your nose, making it much easier for your lungs to accept and use it. Think about when you are outside exercising when its a bit cold - your throat can sometimes feel a bit sore/achey. Thats because its cold air you’re breathing in rather than warm. 

There are some other benefits to nasal breathing too.

If you’ve been reading my content for a while, you may recall me mentioning a few times that there are two major branches to your autonomic nervous system: your sympathetic and your parasympathetic nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response when you are in danger or highly stressed. In a stressful situation, it reacts by increasing your heart rate, causes breathing to become shallow and rapid, increases sweating, and so on. Whereas your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for relaxation, rest, and digestion. And that’s where you want to spend the majority of your time.

A surprising thing to note is that compared to mouth breathing, nasal breathing increases blood oxygen circulating in your body. It also improves your overall lung volume and circulation. This is because the sinuses have a large reservoir of Nitric Oxide (NO). NO helps enhance oxygen uptake into the blood, improves sleep quality and improves mood and memory.

Sleep has many ‘sections’. Deep and restorative sleep is essential for your body to rest, repair any cellular damage and rejuvenate. Mouth breathing can increase stress and anxiety, which can interfere with the deep and restorative sleep sections (these are the most important parts of the sleep cycle). Poor nasal breathing can also increase snoring, and sleep apnea. Which is why you can wake up feeling groggy - and with an annoyed partner! - and don’t always know why.

For those of you who enjoy exercising, you’ll be pleased to know that nasal breathing during exercise can lower respiratory rate, improve cardiovascular performance, and improve metabolic response compared to mouth breathing, according to a study in the International Journal of Exercise Sciences.

Nasal breathing can also improve your brain function too! Another study has found that nasal breathing can improve limbic-related brain areas, such as the amygdala and the hippocampus, and improve memory retrieval. This has to be the simplest way to get that brain functioning as if you were 21 again right?

If you have had your teeth adjusted and wondering why they seem to have moved, it could be related to mouth breathing. Just like tongue thrusting, mouth breathing can reduce the stability of the alignments of your teeth. This may increase the need for braces or compromise teeth alignment once your braces are off. 

Nasal breathing can also seriously benefit your oral health. as mentioned right at the start of this article, when you are mouth breathing, your sinuses cannot add moisture to the air you inhale. This can lead to having a dry mouth, which can increase the acidity of your saliva and lead to pH imbalance in your oral cavity. Naturally, this creates perfect conditions for bad bacteria to increase and symptoms such as gum disease to develop. 

So how can you start practising nasal breathing?

If you’re lucky, it can be as simple as just being more mindful of how you breathe. For others, a bit more intervention is required.

Mouth Taping - this is as simple as putting an ‘X’ of tape (something like surgical tape is fine) over your mouth when you sleep.

Nasal strips - yes, the ones people use to stop snoring! It gently pulls the skin as the stiff band in the middle tries to straighten, allowing more air through.

Acupressure - You can do this easily while sat down. Press your tongue onto the roof of your mouth and push upwards. While doing this, press between your eyebrows with your finger and hold for at least 20 seconds.

During the day, put reminders around your workspace or home to take 10 nasal breaths, and eventually it will become habit!

If you have tried these remedies and nothing has worked, please feel free to reach out to me and see if together, we can get you back on the road to feeling revitalised.

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