Your airway consists of a complex network of tubes that enable air to enter and exit your body with each inhale and exhale. Depending on its severity, an airway obstruction decreases or completely blocks the flow of air to your lungs.
Whether you are awake or asleep, young or old, healthy or sick, your survival depends upon your ability to bring air into your body to your lungs. This impacts your body in more ways than you probably imagined.
By ensuring a steady stream of air to your system, a healthy airway allows your cells to grow, your brain to function, and your body to move. Without breath, your body quickly shuts down. All of your body’s systems including the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, nervous, and immune systems, depend upon a functioning airway.
The roles of breath and sleep in mental health are too often ignored in mainstream mental health treatment. Thankfully, this is starting to change.
James Nestor's groundbreaking book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art explores how we can harness knowledge from ancient breathing techniques to radically improve our physical and mental health. Science is proving what ancient cultures have told us for millennia — the quality of your breath directly affects the quality of your life.
Nasal breathing (inhaling and then exhaling exclusively through the nose) provides many benefits for well-being in both the short and long-term. The nose is the safest and most efficient way to bring air into the lungs. In contrast to this, disordered breathing often involves some degree of mouth breathing.
|Mouth stays moist with saliva. Saliva remineralizes teeth to protect them from cavities.||Mouth becomes dried out, preventing saliva from remineralizing teeth and increasing the risk of dental caries (also known as cavities).|
|Nose filters and moistens air from the outside environment, protecting the body from bacteria and viruses thereby decreasing the risk of illness and infections.||Unfiltered air enters the body through the mouth, allowing viruses and bacteria to contaminate the body, lungs, and digestive tract. Increased bacteria in the mouth can lead to dental caries, inflamed tonsils, throat infection, etc.|
|Upon inhalation, the nose brings outside air temperature closer to internal body temperature.||Body is less equipped to regulate the temperature of air entering the body. This air enters the body at temperatures that are hotter or colder than body temperature.|
|Nasal breathing tends to be slower and deeper. Longer exhales result in better mood, relaxation and balance.||Mouth breathing tends to be more shallow and fast, which results in the body not getting enough air, causing stress, panic attacks and anxiety.|
|In nasal breathing, the body unconsciously shifts between one nostril and the other, balancing the hemispheres of the brain and assisting in energizing and relaxing the body as needed. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system’s “rest and digest” response.||With prolonged mouth breathing the body remains in a state of stress, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response, which inhibits important functions like digestion and restoration.|
There are many causes of chronic airway obstruction including:
Airway obstructions and disordered breathing affect virtually all parts of the body and systems, which is why the signs and symptoms are so varied. The longer you have an impaired airway, the more effects it will cause with each passing year. Disordered breathing has a lot to do with patterns, habits, and compensation for an obstruction.
Somehow, we modern humans have lost touch with just how important breathing is, or even how to breathe correctly. Most of us were never taught the breathing techniques and practices that our ancient ancestors knew so well. We’ve forgotten the ancient art of breathing, and it is taking a toll on our mental and physical well-being.
In his bestselling book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art James Nestor writes about the breathing problems that most modern humans have and don’t even realize. Nestor lays out modern scientific evidence demonstrating what humans already knew millennia ago — that the quality of your breath shapes the quality (and length) of your life.
Could the ancient art of breathing help prevent and even reverse many of the most common mental and physical ailments of the modern world?
Sleep is fundamental to mental and physical health, mood, and quality of life. When you fall asleep at night, your subconscious handles all of your basic physical functions like breathing and heart rate until you wake up. If your airway is compromised, your body will interrupt sleep to keep you alive. Poor sleep and disordered sleep, such as insomnia, restless sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia) are often related to an airway issue.
Airway health is directly linked to many aspects of overall well-being, including sleep and mental health. Sleep disorders like insomnia, restless sleep, and obstructive sleep apnea are closely linked to airway obstruction issues. Similarly, mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity are also closely connected to airway obstruction and sleep problems.
Most people know that disordered breathing can be a symptom of mental health issues such as anxiety or schizophrenia. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you know that it often entails quick and shallow breathing and is often accompanied by a feeling of “not being able to catch your breath.”
It is clear that too much shallow, quick breathing affects your psychological state. Few people realize that poor breathing patterns can actually contribute to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and dementia over time.
If you have sleep apnea, your breathing is interrupted — starting and stopping abruptly during sleep. People with sleep apnea have been known to have hundreds of episodes in which they stop breathing during the night. This is often accompanied by loud snoring. Some report a gagging or choking sensation or waking up gasping for air. A small jaw bone and oral restriction such as a tongue tie can contribute to sleep apnea.
Most people with a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea are put on a CPAP machine or medicated with pharmaceuticals to manage symptoms. However, this type of approach fails to address the root cause. If you are looking to get to the bottom of your airway issue, the first step is to surround yourself with trusted healthcare professionals who understand airway health, breathing and sleep disorders.
To set yourself up for success, you want a team that communicates with each other across disciplines for a holistic health approach. A custom, multi-disciplinary approach to address accompanying issues like oral restrictions, speech & language issues, and airway health & sleep will help your family have the best possible outcome.