Nasal Breathing: Benefits and How to Do It Properly
Breathing air is essential for your health and survival. Yet, we rarely pay attention to our breath and how we are breathing. Most people go through their days without thinking about their breath once. What’s even more problematic is that most people practice shallow and sometimes rapid mouth breathing throughout the day instead of practicing nasal breathing.
Unfortunately, mouth breathing is not ideal. It can increase stress, anxiety, allergies, asthma, sleep apnea, bad breath, gum inflammation, and tooth decay. Nasal breathing, on the other hand, is much better for you. It can improve relaxation, reduce stress, improve circulation, and support restorative sleep. It offers many other health strategies. Being mindful of your breathing and practicing proper nasal breathing throughout the day is, therefore, critical for your health and well-being.
In this article, you will learn what nasal breathing is. You will learn about the benefits of nasal breathing, including activating your parasympathetic nervous system and supporting relaxation, increasing oxygen uptake and circulation, supporting deep and restorative sleep, improving physical and cognitive health, reducing allergies, hay fever, and nasal congestion, and improving oral health. I will also offer some strategies to practice and improve nasal breathing.
What Is Nasal Breathing
As humans, we have two ways to breathe: through our mouth and through our nose. While both ways take oxygen through your mouth into your lungs, there are some major differences between mouth breathing and nasal or nose breathing. Nasal breathing offers more health benefits and poses less health risk than mouth breathing.
We use our mouth for many things: eating, drinking, talking, and yes, breathing. You will soon learn that nasal breathing is often more beneficial, mouth breathing is also necessary. If you have nasal congestion, mouth breathing is critical. For those with small nostrils and deviated septum, it’s also important.
However, through mouth breathing, your mouth loses moisture, and the air you breathe is unfiltered before it gets to your lungs. Mouth breathing can increase the risk of allergies, asthma, sleep apnea, bad breath, gum inflammation, and tooth decay. Shallow or quick mouth breathing is also associated with stress and anxiety. Nasal breathing, on the other hand, is much safer, healthier, and more relaxing.
Nasal breathing allows efficient, safe, and proper breathing. As you breathe in through your nose, your nasal hair helps to filter out allergens, pollen, dust, and other foreign particles from getting into your lungs. Your nose also humidifies, warms, and moisturizes the air you breathe.
This way, the outside air warms up to your body temperature inside your nose, making it much easier for your lungs to accept and use it. When you are breathing through nasal breathing, your nose also releases nitric oxide or NO, which allows your blood vessels to widen and support oxygen circulation. As you will learn later, nasal breathing also supports the relaxation response and has other benefits.
Benefits of Nasal Breathing
Nasal breathing has many benefits, including activating your parasympathetic nervous system and supporting relaxation, increasing oxygen update and circulation, supporting deep and restorative sleep, improving both physical and cognitive health, reducing allergies, hay fever, and nasal congestion, and improving oral health. Let’s look at these benefits of nasal breathing.
Activates Parasympathetic Nervous System
Your autonomic nervous system has two major branches: your sympathetic and your parasympathetic nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response in times of danger and stress. In a stressful situation, it reacts by increasing your heart rate, causing shallow and rapid breathing, increasing sweating, and so on. On the other hand, your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for relaxation, rest, and digestion.
There is two-way communication between your breathing and your nervous system. If you are encountering something dangerous or stressful, your sympathetic nervous system will turn on, creating a stress response, which usually includes rapid and shallow mouth breathing. However, your nervous system also pays attention to your breathing. If it detects shallow or rapid mouth breathing, it will think that something stressful is going on and will turn down the stress response.
On the other hand, in times of stress, nasal breathing and mindful breathing can turn on the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce the fight or flight response. If your body detects nasal breathing and slower, deeper, more mindful breathing, it will note that you are safe and increase the relaxation response.
Nasal breathing supports the same relaxation physiology that yoga, meditation, and similar practices hope to achieve. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research has found that practicing pranayama or alternate nostril breathing for only 5 minutes daily for 6 weeks has improved the parasympathetic nervous system, as well as the cardiovascular and respiratory health of young adult participants (1).
Increases Oxygen Uptake & Circulation
Oxygen is your main source of life. It’s even more important than food and water. Nasal breathing can increase oxygen update and circulation, thus supporting your overall health. Compared to mouth breathing, nasal breathing increases blood oxygen circulating in your body. It also improves your overall lung volume and circulation.
A 1998 study published in Acta Physiologica Scandinavica has found that nasal breathing may reduce pulmonary vascular resistance (2). A 2013 study published in Neuroreport has found that nasal breathing leads to increased oxygen load in the prefrontal cortex compared to mouth breathing (3). A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research has found that practicing pranayama or alternate nostril breathing improved the cardiovascular health of participants (1).
Supports Deep & Restorative Sleep Quality
Deep and restorative sleep is essential for your body to rest, repair any cellular damage, rejuvenate, and improve daytime energy levels. Poor breathing and mouth breathing can increase stress and anxiety, which can interfere with deep and restorative sleep. Poor nasal breathing can also increase snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep issues.
A 2000 study published in Otarolongology, Head and Neck Surgery has found that improving nasal breathing may improve sleep apnea, snoring, and daytime energy levels (4). A 2014 review published in the International Journal of Otolaryngology has found that surgical and other medical treatments to improve nasal breathing may benefit sleep apnea (5).
Improves Physical and Cognitive Health
When you think about your health, both your physical and your brain or cognitive health are important. You will be happy to learn that nasal breathing may improve your physical and cognitive health. It may improve exercise performance, cardiovascular health, respiration, memory, and limbic system health. Nasal breathing can help you feel stronger in your body and sharper in your mind.
A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science has found that nasal breathing improves Vo2 max, respiratory rate, oxygen consumption, and carbon dioxide production in recreational runners compared to mouth breathing (6). A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Exercise Sciences has found that nasal breathing during exercise can lower respiratory rate, improve cardiovascular performance, and improve metabolic response compared to mouth breathing (7).
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that nasal breathing can improve limbic-related brain areas, such as the amygdala and the hippocampus, and improve memory retrieval (8). A 2018 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has found that nasal breathing can improve memory over mouth breathing (9).
Lowers Risk of Allergies, Nasal Congestion & Hay Fever
If you are dealing with regular allergies, nasal congestion, or hay fever, nasal breathing may be a great idea for you. As I discussed earlier, when you are practicing nasal breathing and air enters through your nose, your nasal hair helps to filter out allergens, pollen, dust, and other foreign particles from getting into your lungs. This can reduce the risk of allergic reactions, symptoms of hay fever, and nasal congestion.
A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery has found that nasal breathing exercises may improve symptoms of allergic rhinitis (10). They found that 3 months of use of nasal breathing exercises brought comparable benefits to using nasal sprays for allergic symptoms.
Improves Oral Health
Nasal breathing can also seriously benefit your oral health. A 2020 study published in Bioinformation has found that airway dysfunction can impact your oral health (11). When you are mouth breathing, your sinuses cannot add moisture to the air you inhale.
This can lead to dry mouth, which can increase the acidity of your saliva and lead to pH imbalance in your oral cavity. This creates perfect conditions for bad bacteria to do their job and tooth decay or gum disease (Gingivitis) to develop. Low saliva or the lack of saliva also makes it difficult to remove these bad bacteria.
Nasal breathing may also reduce the risk of orthodontic issues. 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. Experiencing orthodontic relapse due to continued mouth breathing may increase the need for braces or other teeth aligning tools.
Proper Facial Development in Children
Lastly, nasal breathing is also incredibly important for the health of your children, especially for their proper facial development. A 2014 study published in the Journal of International Oral Health has found that mouth breathing may impact dentofacial development (12).
The air they inhale when nasal breathing moves through their nasal mucosa. This stimulates the reflex nerves that are responsible for controlling breathing. It also allows deep sleep. Air coming through mouth breathing, on the other hand, does not pass through the nasal mucosa. This can lead to irregular breathing and sleep issues.
Deep sleep is important for all of us, but it’s particularly critical for children. This is when Human Growth (HGH) is released. This is critical for your child’s brain development, as well as their long bone growth.
Children that do open breathing too much will usually have flatter facial features, lower facial muscle tone, longer faces, less prominent cheekbones, narrower palates, smaller lower jaw, and droopier eyes as adults. If your child tends to mouth breathe a lot, it’s important to check for allergies or other sinus issues. You can learn more about this with the Breath Institute.
Ways to Support Nasal Breathing
Now that you understand the powerful benefits of nasal breathing, you probably want to know how to practice nasal breathing more effectively. For some, it is just a matter of having mindfulness as to how they are breathing.
However, there are others that may need more additional support to retrain their physiology to breath properly through the nose. Here are my tips to support nasal breathing.
Mindfulness of Your Breathing Patterns
The first step is being mindful of your breathing patterns. During your everyday, busy life, you are probably not conscious of how you are breathing. Chances are, you are doing more shallow mouth breathing than you realize.
Try to pay attention throughout the day to your breathing patterns. How do you breathe when you are stressed versus when you feel more relaxed. When do you tend to rely on mouth breathing the most?
When you notice that you are mouth breathing, consciously switch to nasal breathing. You may set designated times to practice nasal breathing. It’s also a great idea to practice diaphragmatic or deep belly breathing through your nose. This can increase oxygen, cardiovascular health, and relaxation.
Lay down or sit tall with relaxed shoulders. Close your mouth. You may place one hand on your chest and on your abdomen. Inhale slowly through your nose. Inhale deeply and watch your belly rise while your chest remains still. Wait for a few seconds that exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this 5 to 10 times each session.
To improve nasal breathing, I recommend a simple acupressure technique. This is also great for relieving sinus congestion from allergies, hay fever, or a respiratory illness. Place and push your tongue against the top of your mouth. Instead of aiming for a specific point, simply push it flat against the roof. Then put your finger between your eyebrows and apply some pressure.
Hold this position for about 20 seconds. Chances are, you will feel your sinuses beginning to drain. Remember, this strategy is only for temporary symptoms relief that you can use alongside my other recommendations for immune support.
Mouth taping is increasingly recommended by sleep specialists and holistic health professionals. It is a simple strategy of putting tape over your mouth when you go to sleep, taping your mouth shut, and blocking the airways. It may sound a bit odd at first, but it’s completely safe and may offer some great benefits.
The logic behind it is quite simple. When you place a tape over your mouth, you won’t be able to breathe through your mouth anymore. This forces nasal breathing.
And as you’ve learned from this article, nasal breathing can reduce snoring, improve sleep apnea, increase deep and restorative sleep, support relaxation, aid brain health, help oral health, and offer many other benefits. It ensures 7 to 9 hours of nasal breathing and supports good sleep. For mouth taping, I recommend Somnifix tape or Micropore surgical tape.
Nasal Strips or Nasal Magnets
You may try some nasal magnets or nasal strips to improve your sleep. Placing a nasal strip or nasal magnet over your nose can help to improve sleep, reduce snoring, decrease congestion, and offer other benefits from improved nasal breathing.
I recommend Intake Breathing Sport and Sleep Kit. It’s a comfortable nasal magnet that you can wear during the night or during the day. It can support your sleep, reduce snoring, lower your heart rate, and improve oral health. During the day, it can improve your energy, focus, and athletic performance. Using nasal strips is an alternative idea with similar benefits. I recommend Breath Right Nasal Strips.
You may also benefit from sinus rinsing using your Neti Pot. Neti pots are a popular home-based natural treatment method to improve nasal congestion, allergies, and upper respiratory health. Using your neti pot may help to clear mucus from your nose and improve your breathing.
Add sterile water mixed with salt to your neti pot. Tilt your head, preferably over a sink. Breathe through your mouth this time. Place the neti pot over your upper nostril and start pouring the water in slowly. Allow it to drain over the lower nostril. When you are done, switch sides and repeat. As a bonus strategy, you can add colloidal silver into your rinse to reduce microbial overgrowth and sinus infections.
Sinus Cleanse Spray
If you are dealing with nasal or sinus congestion, respiratory infection, or allergies, I recommend using a natural sinus cleanse spray. I recommend the Ion Sinus spray.
This sinus cleanses spray is made from mineral-rich bioactive carbons. It improves your nasal breathing, boosts your respiratory health, supports your sinus microbiome, reduces bacterial and fungal colonization, improves infections and allergies. For best results, insert the nozzle into the nostril and pump 2−3 times then repeat for your other nostril. Remember to wipe the nozzle clean after each use.
Exercise and Nasal Breathing
As you’ve learned in this article, nasal breathing can improve your athletic performance, endurance, cardiovascular health, oxygen intake, and VO2 max during workouts, and oxygen muscle training. I recommend that you practice nasal breathing during exercise.
If you are a recreational jogger, I recommend that you aim to practice nasal breathing during your runs. Maintain nasal breathing as long as possible. Your goal is to eventually maintain it all the time. Until you get used to it, you may alternate between nasal and mouth breathing, reducing mouth breathing gradually. I recommend the same while you are on your walks, working out on an elliptical trainer or bike, or doing similar cardiovascular workouts.
If you are a competitive runner or athlete, you may have to focus on nasal breathing and mouth breathing at different times. High-intensity training requires mouth breathing, while low-intensity workouts require nasal breathing. If you are doing resistance or strength training workouts, learn the proper breathing technique for each exercise along with the proper form. Working with a trainer can help you with that at first.
There are two ways that we, humans, breathe: mouth breathing and nasal breathing. Most people practice mouth breathing most of the time or all the time and forget about nasal breathing. Yet, it should be the opposite. Nasal breathing should be favored over mouth breathing due to its health benefits. Mouth breathing increases stress, anxiety, allergies, asthma, sleep apnea, bad breath, gum inflammation, and tooth decay.
Nasal breathing, on the other hand, can improve relaxation, reduce stress, improve circulation, and support restorative sleep, reduce allergies, decrease sinus congestion, improve cognition, and support physical performance. I recommend that you practice the strategies I outlined in this article to improve nasal breathing. If you practice nasal breathing regularly, you may see a significant improvement in your physical, cognitive, and mental health and overall well-being.
If you want to work with a functional health coach, I recommend this article with tips on how to find a great coach. We do offer long-distance functional health coaching programs. For further support with your health goals, just reach out and our fantastic coaches are here to support your journey.
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