The Power Of Oxygen
If you’ve ever slept at high altitude you might have noticed that you didn’t sleep as well – especially for the first couple of nights.
At altitude, the reduced availability of oxygen in the blood results in breathing instability.
This causes sleep disturbances with frequent awakenings and a feeling of lack of air. This generally results in reduced total sleep time, poor sleep efficiency, and reduced Slow Wave Sleep and REM sleep.
So essentially, sleeping at altitude causes poor sleep efficiency and messes with your sleep architecture.
At the heart of this is breathing and oxygen.
We’ve known for a long time now that breathing is crucial for good sleep due to the existence of conditions such as sleep apnea.
Someone with sleep apnea will either:
- Completely stop breathing (known as an apnea) and/or…
- Have their breathing severely restricted (a hypopnea).
And these events can happen hundreds of times per night.
Sleep efficiency (a good measure of sleep quality) is reduced when your sleep is interrupted.
Now for sleep apnea sufferers, the sleep is being interrupted hundreds of time per night which pretty much cuts to zero the chances of them getting good quality sleep as determined by how well they move through the different stages of sleep (sleep architecture).
What many people don’t realize is that sleep apnea is not a ‘yes or no’ condition, meaning it’s not so clear cut as to whether you have it or not.
It’s actually something that sits further to the right on a spectrum of disorders known as sleep-breathing disorders.
This means that even if you don’t have anything close to sleep apnea, it’s still very possible for you to have a slight sleep-breathing issue which is causing your sleep to be less efficient than it could be.
So instead of having your sleep disrupted hundreds of times per night, your sleep might be disrupted dozens of times per night. You may not be diagnosed with sleep apnea, but you’re experiencing to a lesser extent some of the problems.
And these sleep disruptions are definitely going to have an impact on your sleep quality.
It’s also important to note at this point that sleep apnea is progressive – so even if you don’t have fully blown sleep apnea right now, a mild sleep-breathing issue can gradually worsen over time as your body changes with age.
What Causes Sleep-Breathing Issues
The modern world we live in is fantastic.
Science, technology and engineering have created a world full of conveniences that make our lives easier in many ways.
What we’re beginning to learn is that many of these ‘conveniences’ have unintended consequences.
One of these consequences has been a change to our mouth and jaw which has led to a narrowing of the available breathing space.
This has been caused by things like:
- Pacifiers, bottles and sippy cups that change the development of our face, jaw, tongues and teeth.
- A diet of easy to chew foods has also meant that our jaws are not only getting smaller, they also don’t grow down and out like they used to. This in turn results in a smaller airway.
So basically we have a mouth that has become more crowded, with a smaller jaw and crowded teeth.
Next we need to look at what happens inside our mouth when we’re sleeping.
As we transition into deep sleep, the muscles that generally keep your airway open, switch off and go limp. The tongue also loses it’s tone, becomes floppy and spreads out which blocks your airway.
If the airway becomes too small, you can no longer breathe with ease and breathing interruptions occur which pull you back from entering or staying in deep sleep
Hence your sleep quality drops.
Potential Signs Of Interrupted Sleep Breathing
- Twisted bed sheets in morning.
- Dry mouth.
- Morning headaches.
- Grinding teeth (bruxism).
- Tossing and turning.
- Limb movement while sleeping.
- Scalloped tongue.
- Fissured tongue.
- You never feel like you’ve had a quality night of sleep.
- Your nose is constantly stuffy or runny.
- You wake often thru the night.
- You’re less likely to have vivid dreams.
- You go to the bathroom thru the night.
- You’re slowly gaining weight and can’t explain why.
- One or both of your parents were/are snorers.
Your nose was built for breathing, your mouth was built for eating.
The problem is that the mouth can also be used for breathing…it just does it much less efficiently than the nose.
Often times we don’t sleep as efficiently as we could purely because we use our mouth to breathe at night rather than our nose.
In many cases this is because of what we talked about above i.e the size of our breathing passage is reduced.
So when we can’t get enough air through our nose, our mouth comes into play as a back up.
But in many cases we use our mouth to breathe out of unconscious habit. And this is a habit we should definitely try to break.
Improve Your Nose’s Ability To Deliver Oxygen
The key here is that we’re trying to make sure that your nose can deliver the right amount of oxygen to your brain to prevent sleep interruptions
So the first step is to look at how we can improve the nose’s ability to breathe through the night.
If you show any of the symptoms mentioned above, or you think that you might be mouth breathing at night then this is something to think about.
Luckily there are some simple, cheap devices you can buy and test which will quickly help you do that.
The first are Breathe Right Nasal Strips.
These are strips you stick across the bridge of the nose that expand your nostrils out and allow you to inhale a greater volume of air.
You also have a device known as the Airmax Nasal Dilator which performs a similar function to the nasal strips, but pushes the nostrils out from the inside rather than pulling from the outside.
Airmax claims their product is able to reduce airflow resistance 3.6 times more effectively than the Breathe Right nasal strips.
Either of these options are a cheap and easy way for you to start exploring how to breathe better at night.
Transition Away From Mouth Breathing
If you are a mouth breather than the next step you can take is to try and retrain yourself to breathe through your nose when you’re asleep.
You have a few options to help you achieve this.
1) Mouth Taping – Medical Tape
When people started to realize that mouth breathing resulted in lower quality sleep, they took a fairly simple step to change this – they started taping their mouth shut with medical tape.
At first this seems slightly weird, but in theory it makes sense – keep the lips sealed and you force your nose to do the work.
You can learn more about this approach at the link below
2) Mouth Taping Ver 2.0 – SleepYStrip
The SleepYStrip takes the idea of mouth taping and creates a special adhesive product that does the job more effectively, although the product itself has a slight ‘Hannibal Lector’ feel to it.
You can learn more about the SleepYStrip via the video and link below.
The next option is a product called SleepQ+.
I want you to quickly do an experiment.
Pucker your lips slightly, and then pinch the top and bottom lip together at the very center. Now try and breathe through your mouth.
Pretty difficult right?
You can take advantage of this to use SleepQ+ to stop yourself from mouth breathing at night.
SleepQ+ controls mouth breathing without sealing the lips closed by exploiting an inherent characteristic of sphincter muscles.
A sphincter muscle is a circular muscle that normally maintains constriction of a natural body passage or orifice and which relaxes as required by normal physiological functioning.
The lips, one of fifty-two sphincter muscles in the human body can be held closed by controlling only a part of the whole.
Applying SleepQ+ only to the central area of the lips has the same effect and leaves mouth breathing optional through either side of the mouth.
You can learn more about SleepQ+ via the video & link below.
NB – SleepQ+ is a relatively new product and at the moment it’s available only in Australia & NZ. But I believe the manufacturers are working on making it available in other countries.
Other Ways To Improve Sleep Breathing
Often times people who sleep on their back are more prone to mouth breathing. This is because the tongue tends to block more of the breathing space forcing your mouth to get involved.
If you’re a back sleeper it might be worth trying to sleep more in your side.
Now that you understand the importance of breathing through your nose at night, you might want to think about how often you find yourself a little blocked up in the nose around bed time.
Often times we put up with a small case of nasal congestion i.e the sniffles, but even a small case can have an impact on your breathing.
It could be that your nasal congestion is being caused by an allergic reaction to something – even your linen.
Start thinking about how best you can limit this nasal congestion to improve your nose’s ability to efficiently deliver the oxygen your body needs to sleep efficiently.
The quality of the air in your bedroom definitely has an impact on your breathing efficiency through the night.
Make sure you get fresh air through your room each day.
If you live in a built up area where pollution may be an issue, then you might want to look at devices that allow you to improve the quality of air within your house and/or your sleeping space.