In This Article
Body, Mind, and Sport
about an unorthodox technique based on ancient wisdom to stop snoring and protect your teeth and gums, while boosting your parasympathetic nervous system and putting fight-or-flight responses at ease? Read on for my favorite new trick that can address many common health issues.
When I was living in India back in the ’80s doing research for my first book, Body, Mind, and Sport (which is all about why we should nose breathe during exercise), I ran across some interesting studies.
One compares two groups of soldiers during sleep. One is nose breathers and the other is mouth breathers. The study suggests that the nose breathing group rarely, if ever, got sick compared to the mouth breathing group.
Another report shows that nose breathing sleeping is encouraged by Indian parents, who typically adjust the sleeping child to their side, with chin tucked and mouth closed.
These little clues inspired my research into the differences between mouth and nose breathing back in the ’90s, the findings of which were published by the International Journal of Neuroscience.1
Why Sleep With Mouth Closed?
Research suggesting the benefits of nose breathing while sleeping is compelling. Nose breathing drives air through turbinates (like small turbo-chargers) in the nose, which direct it all the way into the lungs’ lower lobes. Here, there is a predominance of parasympathetic receptors, which are needed to calm the body and prepare for deep sleep. Also, the majority of the blood in the lungs is found in the lower lobes.
Most cases of snoring are caused by open mouth breathing and all of the sleep apnea devices are designed to help folks breathe through their nose while sleeping.
Nose breathing, then, more effectively drives oxygen into the blood-rich lower lobe alveoli, which not only support healthy oxygenation of the blood, but more importantly, support a significantly greater exchange of toxins and waste out of those more vascularized lower lobes.
We Recommend The Ayurvedic Guide to the Best Sleep of Your Life
Noble Prize Science Suggests Nose Breathing Sleep is a Must
In 1998, the discovery of nitric oxide won the Noble Prize in chemistry. It was called the “panacea molecule,” supporting cellular repair like nothing seen before.3
The greatest amount of nitric oxide (NO) in the body is found to be produced during nose breathing! That same effect does not happen with mouth breathing.4
Nitric oxide is produced in the paranasal sinuses, so when you breathe through the nose, an abundance of NO is driven into the lungs’ lower lobes, where it acts as an anti-inflammatory, hormonal, antiseptic, and repair agent for the entire respiratory tract and the delicate tissues of the lungs.5, 6
While sleeping, nose breathing also sucks NO from the sinuses into the lower lobes of the lungs and then directly into the blood stream through the lungs’ alveoli. Once NO enters the blood stream, it has been shown to be the body’s primary agent for protection and repair of the endothelial arterial lining. So why in the world would we not train the body to sleep with our mouths closed every night?
In the body, NO plays a plethora of roles essential for optimal health.7
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Benefits of Nitric Oxide
- Regulates vascular tone and blood flow
- Delivers oxygen to mitochondria for energy production
- Supports healthy blood viscosity
- Supports healthy arterial lining, preventing cardiovascular disease
- Generates antioxidants for repair, such as SOD (superoxide dismutase)
- Supports healthy blood sugar and better insulin sensitivity
- Lowers BMI (body mass index)
- Regulates brain blood flow and neural plasticity
- Supports cellular immunity
Just the benefits of NO are more than enough support for the ancient Ayurvedic wisdom that nose breathing while asleep is an important tool to teach children.
In our study comparing nose to mouth breathing, we found even more unprecedented reasons why we should all learn how to exercise and sleep with our mouths closed.8
Benefits of Nasal Breathing
At night, we have eight full hours of these nose breathing benefits:
- Nose breathing forces the entire ribcage to breathe. Deep nose breathing engages all 12 ribs to act as levers massaging the heart and lungs, rather than a cage that squeezes the heart and lungs 26,000 breaths per day.8
- Nose breathing and full ribcage activation act as a pump to pull lymph fluid from the lower parts of the body up into the chest cavity and heart, supporting healthy and active lymph flow.8
- Nose breathing and full ribcage activation are critical for optimal flexibility and elasticity of the spine, head, neck, and low back.8
- Nose breathing lowers heart and breath rate compared to mouth breathing.8
- Nose breathing increases alpha brain wave activity compared to mouth breathing. Alpha brain waves are produced during relaxation and meditative states. Mouth breathing exercise produces a significant amount of beta brain waves, which are associated with stress response.8
- Nose breathing increases brain wave coherence compared to mouth breathing. Brain wave coherence is associated with calm and organized brain function.8
- Nose breathing exercise is perceived as requiring less exertion compared to mouth breathing exercise, according to the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion.8
- Nose breathing exercise demonstrates shorter recovery times and better endurance than mouth breathing exercise.8
- Nose breathing exercise measures a significant reduction in galvanic skin (stress) response compared to mouth breathing exercise. (Nose breathing exercise is less stressful.)8
- Those practicing nose breathing exercise report 50% less fight-or-flight stress and 50% more calm parasympathetic activation compared to mouth breathing exercise.8
- Nose breathing while sleeping can eradicate snoring and help prevent and treat sleep apnea.10, 11
Train Yourself to Nose Breathe While You Sleep
Most people find themselves waking up with a dry mouth, bad breath, and sometimes scratchy throat. Others snore and can eventually develop sleep apnea.
Mouth breathing has been found to dry out the saliva in the mouth, which is linked to changes in oral bacteria and proliferation of foul-breath-causing volatile sulfur compounds as well as the proliferation of other strains of undesirable mouth bacteria, which may be associated with poor teeth and gum health.
Mouth breathing has been linked to snoring, sleep issues, sleep apnea, and changes in the structure of the mouth, resulting in orthodontial issues and more.9
In one study, 50 patients with nasal airway obstruction and obstructive sleep apnea were medically treated to remove the nasal block. Nose breathing was shown to improve 98% of patients with sleep apnea, 38% of patients were relieved of snoring, and 78% reported more daytime energy.10, 11
Mouth Tape Instructions
Medical disclaimer: Before attempting to tape your mouth for sleep, check with your medical doctor. If you have any health concern whatsoever, do not attempt this practice without medical supervision.
If you’re concerned about suffocating, the Somnifix mouth tape allows you to breathe through the mouth if you use effort (which could happen while sleeping).
The adhesive on the micropore tape can be a bit strong for the lips, so be careful peeling it off. Fold the ends of the mouth tape back when putting it on so you can easily take it off in the morning or night if needed.
In time, you will find that you have trained yourself to breathe through your nose and you can switch from mouth tape to a Band-Aid that you can apply vertically over your lips, holding them together while you sleep. The non-adhesive part of the Band-Aid covers your lips, which makes it much easier to remove in the morning. Band-Aids are also much cheaper. The Somnifix strips can be pricey if you become a committed nose breathing sleeper, as I am.
In time, you will not need any help keeping your mouth closed at night—it will become the natural way you sleep.
Remember: Lie on your side with your chin tucked for best training results.