Everyone needs a healthy sleep to function properly. However, snoring and sleep apnea can significantly disrupt your sleep and have consequences for your health and well-being. Snoring means breathing heavily and noisily, with a blocked nose or other narrowing in the upper respiratory tract. With sleep apnea, you involuntarily stop breathing. After each breathing stop you wake up partially and start gasping for air.

Breathing too much

There are various symptoms that indicate that you breathe too heavily and through your mouth at night. These symptoms are not just snoring or sleep apnea, but also: poor sleep, asthma symptoms (especially between 3:00 and 5:00 am), having to urinate at night, dry mouth, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath or a blocked nose, waking up feeling tired. You may experience some or perhaps all of them yourself.

In recent decades, the Buteyko method has helped many people to control their snoring and sleep apnea. Breathing problems can be significantly reduced by nasal breathing, reduction of breath volume and proper sleeping position. This video by Buteyko expert Patrick McKeown shows how sleep apnea develops.

From light snoring to firm sleep apnea

There is a sliding scale from light snoring to heavy sleep apnea: what are the consequences and health risks?

Phase 1: Snoring

Snoring happens because of two factors. The first is a narrowing in the throat or in the nasal cavity. The second is the breathing volume. When a large volume of air is inhaled and has to pass through, a negative pressure in the throat occurs. The palate, tongue and walls of the pharynx will get sucked together. This causes vibrations and the additional snoring noise. In a way, snoring is more of a social problem: you sleep through it yourself, but your partner possibly not.

Phase 2: Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS)

When the upper respiratory tract is even more narrowed and breathing is very difficult you might suffer from UARS. You regularly get half-awake, usually without noticing it yourself. However, your sleep is interrupted and the heart and lungs have to work harder to get air in. Compared to ‘just’ snoring, you feel more tired, sleepier and less concentrated during the day.

Phase 3: Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA, the most common form) closes the upper airway and causes breathing stops. It is considered a sleep disorder if it happens on average more than five times per hour and lasts for at least ten seconds. After each apnea, the body reacts with a ‘wake up’ reflex. Often you get half-awake without realising this, but it also happens that you wake up feeling like you’re choking. Your sleep is severely interrupted, which makes you function even worse during the day.

In light to heavy snoring (1st and 2nd phase)

With light snoring, partners in particular suffer from it. They often sleep worse because of being annoyed by the sound of it, and they can miss out up to one and a half hour of sleep. People who snore also sleep less deeply themselves and wake up tired more often than non-snorers. Snoring gives a dry mouth or sore throat when awakened. As airflow in the respiratory tract is more obstructed, breathing takes more effort. In the longer term, this can lead to complaints such as fatigue and reduced resistance. Heavy snoring also increases the risk of damage to the carotid arteries due to the vibrations of the tissue in the throat.

In sleep apnea (3rd stage)

The consequences of sleep apnea are more severe and, in addition to the above-mentioned complaints, pose significant health and safety risks. Fifteen to twenty percent of our sleep is a very deep sleep, in which the brain works very slowly and can therefore recover. Another fifteen to twenty percent is ‘dream sleep’. This is when the brain works quickly, and we process the experiences of the day. Due to the apnea periods, you neither get enough deep sleep nor enough dream sleep, and you do not sleep well at all.

Daytime drowsiness, concentration disorders and memory loss are problematic because of the risk of accidents in traffic, at home and at work. You can also become more irritable, anxious or gloomy. In addition, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The many breathing stops cause oxygen deficiency in the heart, brain and other organs. This can lead to nocturnal heart rhythm problems, heart weakness, high blood pressure or even a heart attack or stroke (CVA). All the more reason to consult a doctor and not leave sleep apnea untreated.

Disadvantages of mouth breathing

While breathing through the mouth, you inhale significantly more air than you would with nasal breathing. This heavy breathing has adverse effects. The negative pressure in the upper respiratory tract increases which narrows the airway. (This is comparable, for example, to what happens when you suck hard through a ride.) Furthermore, overbreathing through the mouth makes the respiratory tract lose heat and moisture. The airways cool down and dry out, causing inflammatory reactions and further narrowing of the respiratory tract. In short, when you breathe through your mouth at night, the airways become more inflamed and narrowed. In the morning, you feel this in your throat, often as a ‘raw’ feeling. The combination of high breathing volume and narrower airways is a recipe for obstructive sleep apnea.

Buteyko exercises

It is crucial to start breathing through the nose at night. When you start with the Buteyko method, you will do a number of breathing exercises during the day, and you make sure that your lips remain closed at night. As you perform the exercises for a longer period of time, your breathing becomes lighter and calmer at day and night times. This breathing pattern improves airflow through the respiratory tract. Furthermore, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which makes you sleep deeper and better.

With the Buteyko breathing exercises the breathing volume gradually reduces. This is going to solve the problem of negative pressure in the upper respiratory tract. In addition to the exercises we recommend the use of mouth tape and to sleep in side position, as lying on your back leads to a higher breathing frequency and severity of the respiratory abnormalities.

Learning Buteyko

You can learn the Buteyko method in an individual course, with meetings live or online (by video calling), or with a combination of the two. At our office in Hoofddorp, the sessions will take place in compliance with all Corona measures.

How is your breathing now?

Buteyko has developed a simple test: measuring the Control Pause. This test is explained here.

Do you suffer from snoring or sleep apnea?

Please feel free to contact us and request a free consultation. Or read more about out the content of the Buteyko course and how to sign up.

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