Even if you dutifully put aside electronic devices well before bedtime and allow enough time for a good night’s sleep, poor breathing habits could be robbing you of sleep that is truly restful.
“The big issue is that people can’t breathe through their noses,” says Steven Lin, DDS, author of The Dental Diet. The problem stems from a lifelong diet of soft, processed foods—and for many people, not having been breastfed as infants—both of which impair healthy development of the jaw and muscles that support our airways. As a result, the nasal passages and throat can be too narrow or obstructed.
“If you’re not breathing right, you don’t go into deep stages of sleep,” says Lin. Mouth breathing can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea, where breathing stops for 20 seconds or more and creates a sensation of choking. And, weak muscles in the tongue can make it collapse and block the flow of air. But there are ways to correct the situation.
The following breathing exercises, developed by Lin, can train you to breathe through the nose and strengthen the tongue and other muscles that support a healthy airway.
Breathing from the Belly
This is the natural way of breathing, but it can take time to develop the habit. We tend to breathe by expanding the chest, which doesn’t allow the lungs to fully fill with air. It’s best to do this exercise before meals, to improve digestion as well as breathing.
- Sit with your back straight and your mouth closed. Put one hand over your belly and relax your shoulders, jaw, and neck.
- Breathe in through your nose for 3 seconds, letting your belly (not chest) expand. You should feel your hand being pushed forward.
- Slowly breathe out through your nose for 4 seconds. Your belly and hand should move back, toward your spine.
- Pause for 1–2 seconds, and repeat the cycle 20 times.
Doing this exercise twice daily will help hold your tongue at the top of your mouth while you rest, keeping muscles active at night to allow optimum breathing.
- Hold your tongue behind your top back teeth, just behind the two grooves on your palate.
- Push upward with the tip, sides, and back of your tongue, against the roof of the mouth, and hold for 3 minutes.
Humming while breathing from your belly strengthens the muscles that keep the airway open during sleep. Do this daily:
- Keep your eyes closed and take a deep breath through your nose and into your belly for 3 seconds. Let out a quiet hum. Picture the hum starting in your stomach and moving like a violin bow over your vocal cords. Repeat for 2 minutes.
- Continue, but point your tongue to your palate while humming. You should notice the hum getting slightly higher, and your upper jaw should vibrate. Do this for another 2 minutes.