Normal Breathing Volume
The number of breaths per minute during normal breathing is about 10 to 12. Each breath is approximately 500 ml. This provides a healthy volume as described in any University Medical textbook of 5 to 6 litres of air per minute. Normal breathing is quiet, still, calm, relaxed and regular.
Persons with anxiety and depression breathe a volume greater than normally accepted amounts. For example, an average sized person with anxiety might breathe 15 to 20 breaths per minute with each breath being larger than the normal 500ml. Interspersed with this will be a number of sighs. Assuming that each breath is 700ml, the average breathing volume for this person would be 10 to 15 litres of air per minute. In food terms this would be akin to eating six to nine meals each day!
Chronic overbreathing basically means that we habitually breathe more air than what our bodies require. In many ways it is similar to a person developing the habit of overeating. For example, a person eating five or six meals per day over a few weeks will soon develop the habit of overeating.
Breathing is similar. If we breathe more than what our bodies require over a 24 hour period, the habit takes hold. Dr Stephen Demeter confirms this when he states “Prolonged hyperventilation (for more than 24 hours) seems to sensitize the brain, leading to a more prolonged hyperventilation.”
What increases breathing volume?
Breathing increases due to modern living. Factors such as strong emotions, time urgency, tension, anger, stress, anxiety, overeating, processed foods, a belief that it is good to take big breaths, lack of exercise, excessive talking and high temperatures of houses within the home all contribute to overbreathing.
How to recognise habitual overbreathing
At this point, you might say that you don’t overbreathe. For most people it is very subtle. It is hidden and this is the very reason why it often goes undetected. The typical characteristics of people attending my clinics include;
- Breathing through the mouth
- Hearing breathing during rest
- Regular sighs
- Regular sniffing
- Irregular breathing
- Holding of breath (apnoea)
- Taking large breaths prior to talking
- Yawning with big breaths
- Upper chest movement
- Movement of shoulders during breathing
- Lot of visible movement
- Effortful breathing
- Heavy breathing at night
How many apply to you? Do you sigh? Do you mouth breathe? Do you wake up with a dry mouth in the morning? Does your breathing get faster or chaotic when you are stressed?
Carbon dioxide or CO2 is a gas that is created as an end product from our metabolism. The human lungs require an amount of 5% CO2 or 40mmHg. If we breathe too heavy, CO2 is exhaled or washed from our lungs. A loss of CO2 from the lungs results in a reduction of CO2 in the blood, tissues and cells.
The heavier we breathe the more CO2 we lose. Within days, the body becomes accustomed to this lower level of Co2 and breathing will be maintained to keep it at this amount. Carbon dioxide is not just a waste gas. It plays a fundamental role in the oxygenation of all organs and systems.
Functions of Carbon dioxide
Transportation of Oxygen
The release of Oxygen from the red blood cells is dependent on the quantity of Carbon Dioxide in your lungs/arterial blood. When one is overbreathing carbon dioxide is removed from the body causing oxygen to “stick” to haemoglobin within the red blood cells and so is not released to tissues and organs. This bond was discovered in 1904 and is known as the Bohr Effect.
The greater the amount of air taken into the body, the less oxygen is delivered as it is not being released as readily from the red blood cells. To oxygenate tissues and organs, modern man needs to breathe less not more.
Dilation of blood vessels and airways
Carbon Dioxide relaxes smooth muscle which surrounds airways, arteries and capillaries. For example, each 1mmHg drop (norm is 40mmHg) of arterial CO2 reduces blood flow to the brain by 2%. In other words, oxygenation of your brain significantly decreases when you breathe heavily.
The heavier you breathe- the more you feed your hyperventilation or overbreathing related problems. Have you ever noticed that you get light headed after taking a number of big breaths? Have you ever noticed being very tired in the morning after a nights breathing through the mouth? How tired are you after a day’s talking? You might also notice that as you get stressed your breathing gets faster resulting in mental block and difficulty in making a worthy decision? Heavy breathing feeds anxiety and stress. The calmer and quieter you breathe, the more your blood vessels open enabling better circulation and distribution of oxygen throughout the body including the brain.