Snoring: It’s more harmful than you think

Breathing is the most vital body function. But many people are getting it wrong over 20,000 times a day... awake and asleep.

Man snoring in sleep where woman is getting irritated

We think of snoring as that irritating noise that disturbs the sleep of the bed partner, family members and others like hotel guests. But snoring is far more than just a bad noise or something to make jokes about. And it is no longer just something your grandpa does; men, women and children of all ages can be habitual snorers.

Taking snoring seriously

Snoring can have many health complications including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, as well as the much more serious condition called sleep apnoea, in which you stop breathing temporarily during sleep for periods that could be as long as a minute or even more. If it occurs during pregnancy, snoring increases a woman’s chance of developing high blood pressure and of having a low birth-weight baby. In children, snoring is associated with learning and behavioural disorders including ADHD. Snoring can also have serious social consequences—it is cited as the third leading cause of relationship breakdown.

What are common symptoms associated with snoring

  • Heavy, ‘windy’, noisy breathing
  • Restlessness, ‘restless legs’, kicking while asleep
  • Mouth-breathing, dry mouth, dry throat
  • Morning headaches
  • Waking unrefreshed, low energy, daytime tiredness
  • Foggy thinking
  • Frequent sighing, yawning, extra-deep breaths

What causes snoring

The first thing you ought to know is that snoring does not occur in people who have a normal breathing pattern. Those who snore do not breathe correctly, no exceptions. Research shows that a heavy snorer can breathe up to 2 – 3 times more air per minute than is normal, both when awake and asleep. That is, they overbreathe.

Overbreathing, breathing too fast, and/or too much air per breath can cause the tissues lining the nose and throat to get dehydrated, swollen and congested, narrowing the airway. During sleep, when the throat muscles are relaxed, these tissues can vibrate and create the snoring noise. If you suck in a large amount of air rather quickly, the walls of your throat can be drawn closer together and further obstruct the airflow.

Those who snore do not breathe correctly, no exceptions

Snorers are usually unaware of their pattern of overbreathing. During daytime, they can be so used to it that they don’t notice their mouth-breathing, heavier or faster breathing, upper-chest breathing or their intermittent deep breaths, sighs or yawns—all indicators of overbreathing. When lying down and asleep, however, overbreathing and its effects are very noticeable to an observer.

Anyone who has slept next to a heavy snorer will identify with this high “drive to breathe”. One woman described her partner’s snoring thus: “He breathes two breaths for my one. When he breathes in, it’s like he’s sucking the paint off the walls; when he breathes out, I feel I have to hold on to the edge of the bed so he doesn’t blow me out.”

Healthy, physiologically normal breathing is silent; in and out the nose, all day and night and during exercise. It is 8 – 12 breaths per minute, even and regular; it is diaphragmatic—with just a small movement visible at solar plexus level.

Breathing is a critically important body function. It is the first thing we do in life, and the last. Many people are getting it wrong over 20,000 times a day.

Healthy, physiologically normal breathing is silent; in and out the nose, all day and night and during exercise

The good news: You can change the way you breathe

That’s what breathing retraining is designed to do. First, it identifies faulty daytime breathing habits that have become automatic, altering your brain’s breathing control mechanism, and setting you up for what happens during sleep. Then, through awareness and simple practices, breathing retraining gets you back to silent, slow, smooth, soft breathing day and night. Improvement is often noticeably from the first night.

Gregory had been snoring for as long as he [and his family] could remember. His wife rated his snoring as being at least eight out of 10. Gregory had a lot of congestion and his nose was, more often than not, blocked. His daytime breathing was too fast, and too heavy. After his first consultation he noticed that his mucus decreased. On the third night into his breathing programme he found he slept eight hours straight without needing the usual toilet visit. He felt totally refreshed and clearheaded in the morning. His wife came home after being away for three weeks and she thought he had died in his sleep! He was the quietest he had been in 40 years!

This simple, natural, science-based approach to the management of breathing disorders is often overlooked.

Overbreathing: Overlooked!

As explained, snoring is fundamentally a problem with the way you breathe—day and night. Unfortunately this fact is rarely considered and checking someone’s baseline breathing pattern is not part of standard medical diagnosis. People are often steered towards surgical, pharmaceutical or appliance-based interventions without considering what they can do themselves to improve their breathing habits.

Breathing retraining process

A typical breathing retraining programme with a breathing educator, involves an initial consultation in which the breathing pattern is assessed, then a programme that is a combination of formal and informal practice [blended into normal daily activities] is designed. The aim is to eliminate faulty breathing habits and restore a normal and stable pattern of gentle, silent, nose-breathing, at the correct rate, rhythm and volume, and with the correct use of the breathing muscles. You are shown how to maintain better breathing while asleep, when talking, under stress, and during physical exercise.

It really is that simple. The benefits are experienced right away, with most people commenting that they have had their best sleep in decades within just a few days of starting the process. Clients are advised that changes in prescribed medication and treatments must be undertaken only in consultation with their doctor. A follow-up sleep study is recommended for clients who also have sleep apnoea.

First Three Steps to Better Breathing, Health and Sleep

  1. Be aware of your breathing. Know that normal healthy breathing is nasal, silent, slow, soft, smooth and relatively small.
  2. Breathe through your nose whenever it is comfortable to do so.
  3. Breathe more gently. If your nose is blocked or you are uncomfortable breathing through
    it, then as a first step, try to breathe more gently through your mouth.

The simplest things in life are often the best: changing the way you breathe has to beat having an appliance do it for you.


Do you have a faulty breathing pattern? If you check one or more in the following test, the answer is yes.

  • Is your breathing audible day or night?
  • Is your breathing heavy or laboured?
  • Are you breathless even with a minor amount of exercise?
  • Do you often feel ‘spacey’ or dizzy?
  • Do you mouth-breathe?
  • Do you breathe with your upper-chest?
  • Do you breathe more than 14 times a minute?
  • Is your breathing irregular or erratic?
  • Do you breath-hold in the day or night?
  • Do you have a persistent or irritable cough?
  • Is your nose often stuffy or congested?
  • Do you feel like you can’t get enough air when you nose-breathe?
  • Do you sigh, yawn or clear your throat often?

A version of this article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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