Why snoring isn’t funny. And how taping my mouth shut at night (which is funny) improved my health….
As a yoga teacher, breath is gold. I teach breath techniques in every class and start every morning with 30 minutes of pranayama or yogic breathing. And every morning I used to blow my nose. Then I’d blow my nose some more. In fact some mornings I was so congested and blowing my nose so much that Alex remarked that it was like living in a seal colony.
For a while I just thought it was normal to be congested in the morning. After all I had been like that for years. But curiosity drew me to look into it more and turned out it wasn’t just not normal it was hugely detrimental to the quality of my sleep & my health.
You see it turned out that I’m a night-time mouth breather. An occasional snorer to boot. And the more I read and studied, the more I realised that no amount of snoring is normal. We might laugh and joke about it but no amount of snoring is good for you either.
Why do we snore?
Snoring happens for two reasons. Either the airways are restricted, or the volume of breath is too high, or a combination of the two.
Restricted airways can be caused by a number of things. Structural issues such as a deviated septum or overly narrow airways can make it feel easier to breathe through the mouth. Or there can be disrupted airflow in the nasal passageways leading to nasal snoring. Congestion caused by hay fever or allergies can also obstruct the airways, again causing someone to switch to mouth-breathing as a seemingly easier option.
The case of over-breathing is a bit more complicated. There isn’t a figure for it, but a large proportion of the population over-breathes. It’s a bit like exceeding your daily calorie intake in breath. Contrary to popular thought, it’s not oxygen that’s crucial when it comes to breathing, it’s carbon dioxide levels. Carbon dioxide determines the release of oxygen from the blood to the cells. If you’re over-breathing, you’re lowering the carbon dioxide levels in the blood. When this happens haemoglobin holds onto to the oxygen and your cells go without. This can make you feel like you need to breathe more. And so a vicious circle is born. An over-breather will often make the switch to mouth breathing in the mistaken belief that it’s the quickest way to deal with air hunger.
Shut Your Mouth
If you practice yoga with me, you’ll know that it’s nose breathing all the way. There are over 30 benefits to breathing through the nose as opposed to only one through the mouth (and the latter only really applies to top athletes). I’m not going to get into this in this post – that’s a subject for another day. But, briefly, if you snore and (or) mouth breathe, it increases the risk of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks, affects your Heart Rate Variability which knocks the nervous system out of balance. It lowers mental clarity and has been linked to ADHD, it encourages tooth decay and bad breath, asthma, and chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue.
And of course it disrupts sleep, and may even lead to sleep apnea. And poor quality sleep brings with it a whole host of problems from mental health issues like depression to dysfunction of the pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland controls the release of adrenaline, endorphins, growth hormone, and vasopressin which suppresses the need to pee (yes your body is designed to let you have a full night’s sleep without having to get up for the toilet).
Whatever the cause of snoring, it’s a habit. And once you start, it reinforces itself. You see if you don’t use your nasal passageways they atrophy – use it or lose it. Nasal passageways collapse or block up with tissue. The airways lose tone and pressure in them decreases, soft tissues in the back of the mouth become loose and flex in. This creates less space and breathing becomes more difficult. Simply mouth breathing, awake or asleep, begets more mouth breathing.
A Nose By Any Other Name…
But the good news is that when you start using the nasal passageways, they regenerate. Keeping the nose in use trains tissues in the nasal cavity & throat to flex and stay open. Ah, I hear you cry, but I have a deviated septum and I can’t breathe through the nose. The rule of thumb is that if you can breathe through the nose even with a deviated septum for a minute then you can breathe through the nose, albeit you might have to work a little harder at it. And a congested nose? Well, back to me…
I’m not an over-breather – years of yoga have slowed my breath and helped me breathe efficiently. My mouth breathing issue stemmed from nasal congestion, for whatever reason, which was causing me to switch to mouth breathing. And breathing through the mouth during sleep was worsening the congestion and causing my nasal passageways to atrophy.
Losing The Seal Colony
If your snoring is caused by over-breathing, then the way to address it is with breath training. Learning to breathe correctly, breathing through the nose, strengthening the right muscles, restoring diaphragmatic breathing, slowing the breath.
If your snoring is due to congestion, like me, something more drastic may be required. Mouth taping, Yes, you read that right, mouth taping. Not only was I sceptical when I heard this, I was also concerned. If my nose is congested and I tape my mouth how am I going to breathe? Well, it turns out, your body is pretty clever. If you tape your mouth and the body has no option than to breathe through the nose, it decongests it pretty quickly! I have been taping at night for a while now and report about a 95% drop in congestion. Not only that I sleep deep. So deep that I don’t know what I’ve been doing over the last few years – whatever it was it certainly wasn’t sleep! I wake feeling refreshed. I feel and look brighter. And my nasal passageways are loving me.
If you’re curious and would like to try it there are a number of tapes on the market that you can use. Myotape is a well known one and can be purchased from here: https://buteykoclinic.com/myotape/. There are also a number of types available via Amazon. I use thin surgical tape, like you would use to secure a dressing. Roll your lips inwards and then attach a 2 inch strip vertically from your septum to your chin, like a Charlie Chaplin moustache. As the whole mouth isn’t covered, you are able, if needed to access air through the sides of the mouth so it’s not as anxiety inducing as having the whole mouth covered. I can thoroughly recommend that you try it, as odd as it sounds. Ok, it’s not all that attractive but Alex does now have a quieter night. And we’ve lost the seal colony.
I am a qualified Oxygen Advantage coach. For help with dysfunctional breathing patterns please check out details of my breath coaching service.