Breathing solely through the nose, as our primitive ancestors did, is the proper way to breathe. If done correctly, breathing through the nose provides a number of health benefits. On the contrary, mouth breathing can result in both respiratory and neurological health issues. What’s more, chronically breathing through the mouth can even change the shape of your face.
If you find yourself frequently breathing through your mouth, waking up with a dry mouth, or snoring, you’re likely breathing through your mouth more than you should. Here’s what you should know:
A History of Nose Breathing
Despite the fact our bodies and brains are nearly identical, our primitive ancestors had much wider faces and mouths than we do today. This structural difference allowed them to breathe more efficiently through their nose which strengthened their nasal passageways.
In the last 10,000 years, as we’ve transitioned from hunter-gatherers to the development of industrial agriculture, our mouths have narrowed, our facial features have weakened, and we have started to breathe more frequently through our mouths. (This can, perhaps, be attributed to the fact we eat less tough, wild game and consume a softer diet today). In fact, chronic mouth breathing affects between 25 to 50 percent of today’s population.
Worth noting, too, is that most mammals also breathe through their nose even when performing strenuous activity. (Dogs pant to regulate body temperature–not absorb oxygen).
Health Consequences of Mouth Breathing
Health consequences that can arise as a result of mouth breathing include snoring, sleep apnea, and metabolic disease. In adults, it can also contribute to gum disease and worsen pre-existing illnesses.
If present in children, mouth breathing can literally change the shape of their face–developing with less muscle and bone density, and appearing longer and skinnier. This lessens the amount of space for air consumption in the nasal passageways which further contributes to the need to breathe through the mouth. In children, mouth breathing can also contribute to crooked teeth and poor growth.
A likely cause for these health issues is that when we breathe through our mouths–thereby taking quicker, more shallow breaths–we are not able to effectively circulate oxygen.
Benefits of Nose Breathing
When air is consumed through the nose, it is filtered, humidified, and conditioned. This allows the lungs to absorb more oxygen. By taking deeper, less frequent breaths, we are actually able to extract about 20 percent more oxygen than we would if mouth breathing. Additionally, the nitric oxide produced in the nose aids in combating viruses you may breathe in. Taking slow breaths through the nose–six seconds in and six seconds out–can also help resolve respiratory issues.
Being Mindful of Your Breath
The first step to improving the way you breathe is to be mindful of your breathing patterns–from the moment you sit down at your computer to perform work to driving in your car to sleeping at night, you can train yourself to breathe more optimally.
If you wake up with a dry mouth or snore, chances are you’re breathing through your mouth. To train yourself to breathe through your nose at night, a small piece of tape will train your jaw to remain closed.
Attempting to train your body to breathe through your nose during exercise and other strenuous activity can also increase endurance, performance, and recovery.
Breath work is an incredibly powerful tool to be mastered if you want to achieve optimal health. In the case of breathing, practice makes perfect.