Good breathing during rest should be light, gentle, calm and through the nose.
While breathing habits can change in the wrong direction, it is also possible to correct and improve the way we breathe by practicing the exercises, which will help you to enjoy better sleep and lifelong health. The benefits of breathing lightly through the nose are supported by many references to medical papers and research, while the techniques and breathing exercises will help you to change your breathing habits for the better, forever. – Patrick McKeown
Did TikTok lead you here? Hah!
Around the same time I was learning about the healing power of the vagus nerve and how to activate it, in which “mouth taping” was mentioned as one life hack, I found out that it has gone viral on TikTok.
But did you know that mouth taping has been a thing for many years already before then?
Yup! In 1952, Ukrainian doctor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko developed a breathing technique for improving breathing patterns: the Buteyko Method.
And part of that technique is, you guessed it — mouth taping.
At its core, the Buteyko Method is actually pretty plain and simple: breathing in and out through the nose.
The set of breathing exercises is to be practiced when you’re awake. But since the tendency is to go back to mouth breathing when sleeping, taping the mouth shut became the solution.
As you’ll see, and you might be experiencing it firsthand already, mouth breathing has several health drawbacks. Among which are the sleep issues mouth breathers have.
It’s time we restored the natural way of breathing and bring back the awesome quality of life!
The Buteyko Method
Addressing poor breathing habits should be a first call to action, as this approach is the most cost effective and long-lasting, involves no side effects, and is very simple to implement.
The Buteyko Method is all about learning to breathe to maximize body oxygenation, which in turn improves sleep and general well-being.
Breathing 101 – nothing else is more fundamental to our health than breathing.
A healthy diet, regular exercise, and incorporating various healing modalities are beneficial, but we negate all the benefits we could get from them if we have poor breathing habits.
This is the question that arose from Dr. Buteyko when he noticed that his sick patients were breathing hard: did the patients’ illnesses contribute to their heavy breathing or did their heavy breathing contribute to their illnesses?
Dr. Buteyko found out the answers for himself after experimenting with slowing down his breathing, which lowered and normalized his blood pressure. He continued to develop the breathing exercises that later were to become what’s now known as the Buteyko Method.
So, how does this relate to sleep?
The manner in which we breathe during the day determines how we breathe during sleep.
We do the breathing exercises when we’re awake so they become our breathing habit when we’re asleep.
There are two main aspects to the way we breathe: breathing rate and tidal volume. Breathing rate relates to the number of breaths taken in one minute, and tidal volume relates to the amount of air taken with each breath. The volume of air we inhale is measured in liters, and measurements are usually taken over one minute.
According to Patrick McKeown, a healthy breathing rate is 10 to 12 breaths per minute, with each breath drawing in a volume of 500 milliliters of air. This provides the body with a total volume of 5 to 6 liters in a minute.
On the other hand, an unhealthy breathing rate that’s common to people who suffer from snoring and sleep apnea usually takes 15 to 20 breaths per minute. And they take in more than the optimal volume of air. Patrick says it’s like eating 6 to 9 full meals per day!
A normal breathing volume of 5 to 6 liters of air per minute ensures that the blood is almost fully saturated with oxygen.
It’s important to note here that “maximizing” body oxygenation does not mean breathing more.
Breathing more does not add any more oxygen to the blood. Patrick cautions that the bad habit of breathing too much every minute, every hour, and every day causes a detrimental reduction of carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood.
This brings us to another important factor in breathing: carbon dioxide.
Healthy Carbon Dioxide
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood is determined by our breathing. The habit of breathing in excess of bodily requirements causes too much carbon dioxide to be exhaled from the lungs, which in turn causes a reduction of the concentration of CO2 in the blood. When carbon dioxide levels are less than adequate, the transfer of oxygen from blood to muscles and organs is limited, leading to poor body oxygenation.
Patrick tells us that our bodies require a certain amount of both oxygen and carbon dioxide. In terms of breathing, they work hand in hand.
As we inhale, oxygen passes from the lungs to the blood where it is picked up and carried through the blood vessels by a molecule called hemoglobin. This oxygen-rich blood is then pumped by the heart throughout the body so that oxygen can be offloaded to cells for conversion to energy.
But, in order to release oxygen from the blood, carbon dioxide must be present.
Overbreathing causes too much carbon dioxide to be removed from the blood through the lungs, resulting in less oxygen being delivered to tissues and organs.
Without sufficient levels of carbon dioxide, our bodies won’t be adequately oxygenated.
Mouth vs Nose Breathing
The upper airways collapse when the negative pressure generated as air is inhaled into the body exceeds the ability of the muscles of the upper airways to keep the airways open. Breathing through the nose or mouth during sleep has implications on the messages sent to the muscles of the upper airways. Researchers have found that the muscle activity of the upper airways in keeping the airways open is higher during nasal breathing than oral breathing.
In Activate Your Vagus Nerve, Dr. Navaz pointed out that muscle activity has a greater effect on the signaling nerve than on the muscle itself. It’s no coincidence that the primary effect of a dysfunctional vagus nerve is dysfunctional breathing.
This is what happens when we breathe. If breathing is done through the mouth, the signaling nerve sends incorrect messages to the muscles of the upper airways (nose and throat).
In the book, Patrick explains the mechanism in the upper and lower airways (lungs), describing the experience of snoring and sleep apnea. But basically, it’s like breathing through a paper straw. Not ideal!
This inevitably leads to the collapsing of the upper airways, which causes the stoppage of breathing as in the case of obstructive sleep apnea.
One study shows that mouth breathing during sleep makes it up to 2.5 times more difficult to breathe (upper airway resistance) as compared with nasal breathing in normal people.
To show the facts, there is what’s technically called the Apnea Hypopnea Index (AHI), which measures the presence and severity of sleep apnea. For basis, an AHI of 5 to 15 is classified as mild obstructive sleep apnea; 15 to 30 is moderate OSA; 30 or more is severe OSA.
In one study, the apnea hypopnea index while breathing through the mouth was measured at 43 per hour, while the nasal breathing AHI was just 1.5.
The data shows who the clear winner is: nose breathing.
Beauty and the Best
In understanding the role of nasal breathing in facial development, it’s important to understand that the position of the tongue influences the growth of the face. When a growing child breathes with the mouth closed, the tongue is able to rest in the roof of the mouth and shape the jaws in a wide U shape, as well as guiding forward growth of the jaws to develop a good upper airway. A wide facial structure with well-developed jaws not only produces a more attractive looking face but is healthier as well.
Nose breathing is not only best for your health, it also makes you beautiful! It’s why the Buteyko Method dovetails with another technique that had gone viral — mewing — also named after its proponent, Dr. Mike Mew.
The best time to start doing both techniques was 30 years ago, back in our childhood days while growing up because what we started forming as a child will develop more during our adulthood.
Chronic mouth-breathers have a low resting tongue posture which leads to narrow jaws and overcrowding of teeth. It is even more important to recognize that mouth breathing causes the face to sink downwards, meaning the jaws don’t develop adequately on the face. The result is increased risk of lifelong sleep-disordered breathing (including obstructive sleep apnea), poor academic performance, behavioral issues and a less attractive face.
That’s why Patrick advocates breastfeeding since it ensures nose breathing during the first months of an infant’s development.
But it’s not too late for any of us. The next best time to doing it right is now.
A measurement called the Control Pause (CP) was developed by Buteyko to measure relative breathing volume. Quite simply, it is the length of time you can comfortably hold your breath following an exhalation.
The control pause (CP) is an indication of our breathing volume. It also serves as an indicator of progress with the Buteyko Method.
Here’s Patrick discussing control pause and how to improve it:
Steps to taking your control pause:
- Take a small, silent breath in, and a small, silent breath out.
- Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
- Count how many seconds until you feel the first signs of air hunger.
- At the first sign of air hunger, you may also feel the first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles. Your tummy may jerk. The area around your neck may contract.
- Your inhalation at the end of the breath should be calm.
- Release your nose and breathe in through it.
Remember that taking your CP involves holding your breath only until the first involuntary movements of your breathing muscles. If you have to take a big breath at the end of the breath hold, then you have held your breath for too long.
The ideal time to take a CP measurement is in the morning after waking up. You may also take measurements at different times of the day to get feedback on your breathing.
The goal is to improve your CP gradually over time until you reach a CP of 40 seconds.
How to Unblock the Nose
Studies have shown that exhaling through the mouth can result in the loss of heat and up to 42% more water than exhaling through the nose. This increased heat and water loss may result in symptoms of nasal obstruction (blocked nose) and difficulty breathing. In a vicious cycle, a blocked nose encourages the individual to continue mouth-breathing and perpetuates the condition. Somewhat counter-intuitively, breathing through the nose can help to keep the airways unblocked, prevent dehydration, and improve healthy breathing volume. Practicing breath hold techniques can also be used to easily decongest the nose.
Isn’t that strange? Mouth breathing causes nasal congestion more and what actually decongests the nose is nose breathing.
In another research study, it was found that holding the breath for 30 seconds or longer helped to open up the nasal passages to make breathing easier.
Here’s Patrick once more teaching how to unblock the nose:
Again, here are the steps to unblocking your nose:
- Take a normal, silent breath in through your nose.
- Allow a normal, silent breath out through your nose.
- Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering or escaping.
- Nod your head up and down or sway your body until you feel a medium-to-strong need for air.
- Hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can.
- Let go and breathe in through your nose.
- Calm your breath immediately.
Wait for one minute and repeat. Repeat five or six times until your nose is completely free. Practice the exercise any time your nose feels blocked to temporarily decongest your nose. Your nose will be more permanently free when you are able to reach a Control Pause of over 25 seconds.
Mouth Taping During Sleep
An effective way of ensuring that you continue to breathe through the nose during sleep is the technique of using paper tape to keep the mouth closed.
You may find when you first try taping your mouth you feel as if you aren’t getting enough air. The reason for this discomfort is due to the fact that your body has become accustomed to your heavy breathing through the mouth. But it can adapt – it only takes a short space of time before you get used to breathing through your nose instead. After a couple of weeks of practice, and with lighter breathing and a higher Control Pause, you will find it more comfortable to breathe through your nose during sleep.
The benefits of nose breathing during sleep include:
- Calm, restful, uninterrupted sleep
- Fewer wakings during the night, and more likelihood of sleeping straight through the night
- Waking up feeling rested, clear-headed and energized
- Being more productive during the day as your alertness and concentration improves
Now, how do we ensure we breathe through the nose during sleep? Enter the art of mouth taping.
Thankfully for me, I’ve been a nose breather ever since. I’ve only become more conscious of my breathing when I began my healing journey (The Path to Awesomeness) and learned about mindful breathing and other breathworks.
So when I tried mouth taping, nose breathing wasn’t particularly the deal but instead the sensation of the tape on my mouth, hah! It felt weird at first but after a few more nights, I was getting the hang of it.
My suggestion is to be more consistent with the breathing exercises when you’re awake so the need for mouth taping during sleep would be less and less.
If you’re a mouth breather and have sleep issues like snoring or sleep apnea, try mouth taping only after you’ve consistently practiced the breathing exercises, say 30 days after or more. You can also start with your siesta naps for shorter durations to help your body acclimatize to a new breathing habit through the nose.
Make your improvements gradual until you can comfortably sleep well at night with or without the mouth tape.
To normalize your breathing volume, you need to practice simple relaxation exercises. This is achieved by bringing a feeling of relaxation to your body and silently encouraging your breathing to decrease to the point where you feel a tolerable hunger for air. When the body experiences a sustained shortage of air, the breathing center in the brain is reset to a lower breathing volume, encouraging calmer and gentler breathing. As you become accustomed to keeping your breathing quiet, it will gradually become a permanent breathing habit.
The Buteyko Method has three tenets to normalizing your breathing:
- Close your mouth and breathe through your nose day and night – everything we’ve talked about previously
- Adopt the correct posture – slouching compresses the diaphragm and results in breathing from the upper chest; become aware of your posture and how it affects your breathing
And the last one is something to avoid over-breathing by doing its opposite: reduced breathing
- Relax the inner body, the chest, and the tummy to create an air shortage – encourage your breathing to become quieter and calmer; encourage your breathing to slow down and relax; encourage your breathing to reduce through your thoughts and inner relaxation
The Buteyko Method recommends practicing reduced breathing for periods of five to ten minutes at various times throughout the day.
Good Breathing, Better Sleep
By observing the breath, calming your inner body, and allowing your breathing to reduce, the body’s relaxation state is activated. In addition, the practice of watching your breath acts in a meditative way and is very helpful to calming the mind. Your mind will be far less distracted by thought while you are relaxing your body and experiencing a shortage of air. Breathe less and give yourself a break from your mind.
This was a part of Patrick’s advice for reversing insomnia. He tells us that when we bring our attention to the inner body, we will find our mind is calm. We cannot think and keep our attention on the inner body at the same time.
Patrick points out that the only time most people truly bring attention to their bodies is when something is wrong with them. Which, if I may add, is the higher purpose of sickness — it’s a wake-up call.
Your body is in a state of stillness, and taking your attention into it will help bring the mind into stillness.
For a change, instead of finding what’s wrong with the body, why not bring our attention to it with gratitude? That’s exactly what the Body Scan with Gratitude exercise in The Path to Awesomeness Starter Kit is for.
I’m also pleased to say that Body Scan with Gratitude is similar to the inner body exercise that Patrick explains in the book. Not to mention that Awareness of the Breath (also in the kit) is for observing the breath to cultivate your awareness. Both exercises will complement the Buteyko Method perfectly!
To wrap off everything, here are the recommended steps to applying the Buteyko Method for sleep disorders (interestingly, they’re aligned with the sleep recommendations for vagus nerve stimulation):
- Measure your Control Pause each morning upon waking. With every five-second improvement to your Control Pause, you will feel better and experience deeper sleep and improved energy levels.
- Breathe through the nose both day and night.
- Practice the Reduced Breathing exercise for ten minutes by three times daily, along with fifteen minutes directly before bed.
- Spend half an hour to one hour performing physical exercise with nose breathing during the day.
- Avoid sleeping on your back. Sleep on your side.
- Sleep in a cool airy bedroom.
- Avoid looking at mobile phones or laptops for two to three hours before sleep.
- Don’t eat late at night as it disrupts sleep.
And with that, I wish you a pleasant evening and a good night’s sleep.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PATRICK MCKEOWN is creator, CEO and Director of Education and Training at Oxygen Advantage®, Director of Education and Training at Buteyko Clinic International and President of Buteyko Professionals International. He is a leading international expert on breathing and sleep, and author of bestselling books including The Oxygen Advantage. His focus — to empower more people every day to breathe better, feel better and achieve their potential.
For more info, visit buteykoclinic.com