How Do You Breathe?
Have you ever paid attention to how you breathe? How do you breathe when you sleep, when you are awake, when you exercise, or at rest? Do you know? I can tell you that I paid no attention to it for most of my life until I read the book Breath by James Nestor. That book has inspired me to change how I approach something I have done unconsciously since I was born. To be more mindful, intentional, and aware of the way I breathe. Focusing on breathing is really hard to do. I do it when I meditate, and I almost immediately lose focus. When I do it during exercise I feel like I am drowning.
After studying my own breathing habits, I quickly learned that I was primarily a mouth breather. I rarely ever breathe through my nose unless I really focused on doing it when instructed to during meditation or in the rare circumstance that I remembered on my own. I noticed that I would take a huge deep breath periodically throughout the day as if my body just needed a little oxygen boost.
The question then was, how do I change this? But before I get to that, let’s take a look at why it is bad to be a mouth breather and why a change was necessary for me.
Nose Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing
Our nose was meant to be our primary breathing mechanism. Our mouth is our primary input for food and a secondary input for air if the nose can not perform its duties. Somewhere along the way, I and many others gave our noses an extended vacation and began breathing primarily through our mouths. The problem is that the nose performs many important functions that the mouth can not. Let’s take a look at the pros of nose breathing vs. the cons of mouth breathing:
Pro’s of Nose Breathing
- Air Filtration: our nasal hairs act as a filter to clean our air so that dirty air (dirt, allergens, etc.) doesn’t enter our lungs.
- Humidification: our nose warms and moistens the air that enters it, allowing our body to more easily use the oxygen.
- Nitric Oxide (NO) Production: enzymes in the nose and paranasal sinuses produce NO, which aides all of our bodily systems, including our cardiovascular and immune systems.
- Respiration Rate: nose breathing slows down our breathing rate, helping to increase lung volume and oxygen uptake by the lungs.
- Better Sleep: nose breathing lowers the likelihood of sleep apnea
Con’s of Mouth Breathing
None of the above happens in addition to:
- Dry mouth and bad breath in the morning
- Teeth decay
- Jaw and teeth malformation
The research clearly shows that we were designed to be nose breathers, yet somehow most of us (including me) decided to defy mother nature and breath through our mouth. I mean, who wants to be healthy anyway?
Do Hard (Dumb) Things!
So I decided to get stupid along with Peter & Sarah from The Fat & Broke Podcast. In a recent episode, we discussed the book by James Nestor and some of the experiments he did while doing his own research on nose breathing. One such experiment was taping his mouth shut to force nose breathing. So clearly, we needed to try that! Since we all work full time and in healthcare, we could not do this all day, every day. So we decided to do a 5-night experiment where we would tape our mouths shut while we slept.
Why would we agree to something so seemingly dumb? If you listen to our show or read our blog, you know that we believe in doing hard things as a way to make ourselves better. Going outside of our comfort zones helps us find out things about ourselves that we would never know if we only did what was comfortable. Whether we experience success or failure doing the hard thing does not matter. What matters is working to be better every day by doing hard things!
So What Happened?
First things first, I did not die. Obviously, because I am writing this right now. However, I did manage to sleep for 5 nights with tape on my mouth. Taking a cue from Sarah, I chose to use Kinesio Tape because it is flexible and has a very mild adhesive. In addition, Kinesio Tape is meant to be worn for a long time, so it was perfect for this experiment.
To measure my results objectively, I used the SATED Questionnaire to measure my sleep quality. First, I did one for my prior state in general, and then I completed one each morning during the experiment. So, without further adieux, here are the results:
- some jaw pain in the morning (only the first night)
- mild discomfort with tape removal
- can’t talk to wife at night
- woke up at 4 am more easily
- more energy and alertness in the morning
- more dreams (indicative or more REM sleep)
- less sinus pressure and allergy symptoms
- more nose breathing throughout the day
- fresh breath in the morning
- able to nose breathe with running and exercise more comfortably
- no snoring
- quiet breathing while asleep (per wife)
Based on the small sample size of 5 days, the results are clearly in favor of nose breathing, which I guess may have been obvious based on all of the research. But nothing like experiencing it yourself to motivate change. I was actually amazed by how noticeable the changes were for me, especially those around my energy levels and allergies. After 5 days of a simple change, there was a clear difference in the way I felt overall. Very surprising.
Is taping my mouth shut feasible forever? Probably not, unfortunately. Many products on the market claim to do something similar, so I will have to do further research. Or maybe I will bring my own to market. I will continue to tape for a while to see if I can train myself to do it without any assistance. I will also continue to be more mindful through the day of becoming a nose breather. The benefits are obvious, so I am committed to the change. Like we say on our show, Better Every Day!