Breathe Easy for the Best Sleep

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A young woman resting lying in bed

Breathing is a major factor in getting a good night’s sleep. And breathing through the nose, not the mouth, is best for healthy sleep.

“Aside from addressing major sleep issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia or daily stressors that affect sleep, breathing through a clear and clean nasal passage is one of the best ways to facilitate healthy, restorative sleep,” says University Hospitals Sleep Medicine nurse practitioner Peggy Smith, CNP.

Nasal Issues that Interfere with Good Breathing

Both congestion and structural problems can prevent easy breathing through your nose. Structural problems such as a deviated septum or tissue swelling can limit the clear passage of air, while nasal or sinus congestion makes it difficult or painful to breathe. Congestion can be from a cold, the flu, an infection, allergies, medications, or even a poor environment that’s too hot, cold, dry, stuffy or damp.

How Does Poor Breathing Affect Sleep?

Breathing through the nose is natural. The nose and nasal passages filter out impurities and add moisture to the air before it enters the body. But if your nose is congested or your nasal passages are blocked, your mouth automatically opens to facilitate breathing. And even though breathing through the mouth is the body’s automatic response to poor nasal breathing, mouth-breathing brings some health risks.

Mouth breathing results in snoring which can be a symptom of or easily develop into obstructive sleep apnea. Both snoring and sleep apnea prevent sound restorative sleep by waking you up intermittently during the night. Worse yet, sleep apnea prevents adequate oxygen levels in the body, which can bring daytime sleepiness and brain fog, raise blood pressure, and increase the risk of atrial fibrillation and stroke.

Mouth-breathing also results in a dry mouth. Dry mouth causes bad breath, mouth sores, tooth decay and other oral problems.

How to Improve Nose Breathing for Better Sleep

Smith offers these tips to reduce congestion and help support a clear air passage:

  • Flush with nasal saline irrigation using a squeeze bottle or neti pot. This naturally cleanses the nose and nasal cavity. For those with allergies, it cuts down on the allergens that irritate sinuses.
  • Use a nasal steroid spray to help decrease swelling in the nasal cavity and allow the clear passage of air.
  • Use over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays sparingly. The body can easily become dependent on them for clear breathing and when they’re stopped congestion may get worse.
  • Nasal strips, applied over the nose, may reduce congestion.
  • Nasal dilators, placed in the nose, open passages.
  • Surgery may be necessary to correct a deviated septum or other structural problems.
  • Mouth-covering tape products are available but may be extreme. A small piece of hypo-allergenic tape applied vertically at the center of the lips could prevent jaw drop while allowing a minimal passage of air if necessary.

Related Links

University Hospitals offers a full range of treatment options to help improve your sleep and enhance your quality of life. Learn more.

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