In the last few months I’ve made a small but radical change: I breathe through my nose. For those of you who have always been nose breathers this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. I have been a mouth breather for as long as I can remember. Other than knowing that I was a “mouth breather,” it never really bothered me. I broke my nose a couple of times in high school and even had surgery. Breathing through my nose just seemed like something that wasn’t in the cards for me. Then I read the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.
Before reading this book, only one person had ever suggested that I need to nose breathe. He was my dentist in Taiwan and he spent 10 minutes at the end of one of my checkups telling me how I could practice nose breathing and how it would help me. I was just glad to not get lectured on flossing. I tried a few of the exercises he mentioned, but they were hard and I didn’t keep at it.
I’ve always been chronically stuffy. Spring is allergy season for me and in years past I just expected to have 3-4 months of total nasal blockage. I also got frequent ear infections because my sinuses were so blocked up. It was terrible, but usually improved over the summer. Dry winter air clogged things up again.
Snoring has also been a problem for me. I snore like a Mack truck. It’s loud. I’ve tried breath-rite strips, funky headbands, special pillows, and other uncomfortable things I can’t recall but which did not work. I just assumed that wall shaking snores were my lot in life. (Did I mention I broke my nose? That must be why! Nothing I can do about it, right?)
Breath opened my eyes to how important it is to breathe the right way. (To be clear, breathing the right way means breathing through your nose.) I’ve been working on consciously nose breathing for the last four months. At first it was a constant battle to both catch when I switched to mouth breathing and then to focus on nose breathing long enough to get into a pattern. Over the first month I was pretty sure it would never become a firm habit, but I kept at it because I started to feel better.
At night, I started taping my mouth shut. The first couple of nights were uncomfortable and I ripped the tape off after a few hours. But starting the third night something amazing happened: I slept great. I woke up refreshed. My snoring was reduced from wall shaking to just mildly annoying. On nights when I forget or am just too lazy to get the tape (I use a strip of 3M clear surgical tape about 1.25 inches long), I can tell a big difference in the morning. My mouth is dry, my nose is clogged, and my breath is really bad. On nights I use the tape I have none of those problems. The only hard part is getting the adhesive out of my mustache.
After a few months of effort, nose breathing has become a habit. I’m not good at forming good health habits. For me this is a big deal. Here are some of the effects I’ve seen:
- Better sleep, both subjectively and as tracked by my Apple Watch
- Lower resting heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved stamina
Of course it’s hard to pinpoint which lifestyle changes lead to which effects. I wasn’t doing this in a lab. But since I’ve made correct breathing a priority I’ve seen some other improvements like more success in intermittent fasting and better results with Wim Hof Method practice. It’s possible that one of those things was the root cause of the positive changes, but I’ve tried to have a consistent IF practice for a few years and have never done well. The last four months have been great, both in terms of compliance and in terms of results.
Check out Breath. It’s a quick read, very entertaining, and it will give you the building blocks you need to improve your breathing.
Better breathing is free, but it’s had a huge positive effect for me.