Maintaining Proper Breathing During Sleep

Kirk Parsley
February 23, 2024

Breathing is an automatic process, yet it significantly influences our sleep quality and overall health. With about 30% of the population experiencing sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea, the importance of maintaining proper airflow during sleep cannot be overstated. 

This brief guide sheds some light onto the mechanics of breathing during sleep, outlines common challenges, and provides effective strategies to ensure a restful night.

Understanding the Basics of Breathing During Sleep

During sleep, our body enters a state of relaxation, but our respiratory system must continue to work efficiently. 

The process of breathing slows, and the body’s need for oxygen decreases, yet the removal of carbon dioxide remains critical. Sleep is categorized into two main stages: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep, each affecting our breathing differently. Non-REM sleep, which makes up the majority of our sleep cycle, is a time of deep rest when breathing is slow and regular. Conversely, REM sleep, the stage associated with vivid dreams, can cause irregular breathing due to the relaxation of the muscles in the throat.

Common Challenges to Proper Breathing

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition where the airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing. These interruptions can occur dozens or even hundreds of times per night, significantly disrupting sleep quality and leading to long-term health issues. Central Sleep Apnea, less common than OSA, involves the brain not sending the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Snoring, another common issue, can signal obstructed airways and affect both the individual and their partner’s sleep quality.

Strategies for Maintaining Proper Breathing

Positional Therapy: Sleeping on one’s side can prevent the tongue and soft tissues in the throat from blocking the airway, promoting better airflow and reducing the risk of sleep apnea and snoring.

Weight Management: Excess weight, especially around the neck, can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea by compressing the airway. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can alleviate these symptoms.

Breathing Exercises: Simple exercises can strengthen the muscles that control breathing, improving both daytime breathing and nighttime respiratory stability. Techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing encourage a deeper, more efficient breathing pattern.

Environmental Adjustments: Ensuring clean, allergen-free air can help maintain open airways. Consider using air purifiers, maintaining optimal humidity levels, and keeping the bedroom at a comfortable temperature to support unobstructed breathing.

Medical Interventions: For those with significant breathing disorders, medical interventions such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines, dental devices to keep the airway open, or even surgery may be necessary. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.


Proper breathing during sleep is foundational to our health and well-being. 

By understanding the challenges and implementing effective strategies, individuals can greatly improve their sleep quality and, by extension, their overall health. 

If you suspect you have a sleep-related breathing disorder, it’s important to seek professional advice. Remember, a good night’s sleep is not just about quantity but also about the quality of breathing.

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