HOW TO RECOGNISE HABITUAL OVERBREATHING
For most people, overbreathing is subtle. It is hidden, which is why it often goes undetected. The typical breathing characteristics of people attending my clinics include:
- Breathing through the mouth;
- Audible breathing during rest;
- Regular sighs;
- Regular sniffing;
- Irregular breathing;
- Holding the breath (apnoea);
- Taking large breaths prior to talking;
- Yawning with big breaths;
- Upper chest movement;
- Movement of shoulders while breathing;
- Lot of visible movement;
- Effortful breathing;
- Heavy breathing at night.
How many of these apply to you? Do you sigh? Do you breathe through your mouth? Do you wake up with a dry mouth in the morning? Does your breathing get faster or more chaotic when you are stressed?
IMPLICATIONS FROM OVERBREATHING
1) Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a gas created as an end product from our metabolic process. The human lungs require 5% CO2 or 40 mmHg. If we breathe too heavily, the partial pressure of 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.
2) Carbon dioxide relaxes the smooth muscles that surround the airways, arteries, and capillaries. With a normal breathing volume of 5 litres of air per minute, the partial pressure of carbon dioxide amounts to 40mmHg. Each 1 mmHg drop of arterial CO2 reduces blood flow to the brain by 2%.1 In other words, oxygenation of your brain significantly decreases when you breathe heavily. Lower carbon dioxide in the blood constricts the carotid artery, the main blood vessel going to the brain. The extent of constriction depends on a person’s genetic predisposition but has been estimated by Gibbs (1992) to be as much as 50% for those with anxiety and panic attacks. This finding is also supported by Ball & Shekhar (1997)
3) Balestrino and Somjen (1988) and Huttunen et al. (1999) demonstrated that CO2 reduces cortical excitability. Cited in Normal Breathing: the key to vital health, “breathing too much makes the human brain abnormally excited due to reduced CO2 concentrations. As a result, the brain gets literally out of control due to appearance of spontaneous and asynchronous (‘self-generated’) thoughts.” Balestrino and Somjen (1988) in their summary directly claimed that, “The brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability.” In this vein, overbreathing is a significant and often overlooked factor in causing insomnia.
4) During normal conditions, 75% of your oxygen intake is exhaled while breathing a healthy volume of four to six litres per minute. Even during intense exercise, it is estimated that 25% of our oxygen intake is exhaled. Breathing a larger volume than normal does not increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, as it is already 97–98% saturated. When one is overbreathing, carbon dioxide is removed from the body, causing oxygen to “stick” to haemoglobin within the red blood cells. This prevents its release into tissues and organs. This bond, discovered in 1904 by professor of physiology Christian Bohr, is known as the Bohr Effect.
5) Heavy breathing volume during sleep causes turbulence and noise such as snoring. Drawing a large volume of air through a narrow space creates noise. Know that it is impossible to snore when the breathing is calm. Snoring is nothing more than very heavy breathing through the nose or mouth, or both.
6) Heavy breathing causes the airway walls to collapse. It is not that the airways are too small, the problem is that breathing volume is too heavy. When the airway walls collapse, breathing muscles heave in an attempt to draw in more air. This only contributes to further holding of the breath constituting sleep apnoea.