Breathing Problems and Sleep

If you can’t breathe through your nose, you can breathe through your mouth, right?

True, but when it comes to breathing while asleep, air coming through the mouth is qualitatively different from air coming through the nose and can ruin a night’s rest.

“Sinus infection, allergies, and other causes of nasal obstruction can make breathing difficult at night,” says Samer Fakhri, MD, associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. “Anything that causes you to breathe through your mouth prevents your nose from warming, filtering, and moistening the air you breathe and can result in a high level of sleep disturbance.”

Beyond quality issues, breathing through the mouth also causes physical problems in the throat and airway.

“Breathing through your nose is less work because there is more resistance breathing through your mouth,” says Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, MD, chairman of the ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) department at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “When you breathe through your mouth at night, your jaw and tongue can fall back and block your airway, causing increased likelihood of sleep apnea and snoring.”

In addition to sleep apnea, which is characterized by breathing cessations while asleep and can lead to severe physical aftershocks, including high blood pressure and even stroke, other breathing problems can obstruct sleep and lead to physical problems.

Mucosal obstruction from colds or allergies will obstruct the linings of your nose and sinuses and force you to breathe more, or perhaps almost entirely, through your mouth. The results can be sleep disruption, leading to more health and physical challenges the next day. Allergies especially need to be tended to medically since they can be more longstanding.

Anatomical obstructions in airway, whether involving the tonsils, adenoids, neck size from being overweight, or a soft palate and/or uvula, can also result in breathing difficulties at night. These anatomical obstructions need to be tended to, whether by losing weight or by medical intervention for long-term sleep and physical health.

If you find yourself fatigued in the daytime and suspect you may have a breathing problem forcing you to adopt to mouth breathing while sleeping, you need to get a medical evaluation as soon as possible. The short-term consequences can be ruined daytimes, but the long-term consequences can be diminished and threatened health.

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